Wednesday, May 20, 2009

One End, New Beginnings

On Sunday, May 10th we celebrated Mother’s Day, UGA’s newly minted class of 2009, AND the final event in our Unnatural Causes Film & Discussion Series! These events & conversations have exposed a lot about health inequity and the social determinants of health, especially how these topics relate to the Athens area. Over the course of 8 weeks 400 people from the campus and community attended screenings and participated in the discussions that followed. So I’ll say early on in this post – thank you! Thank you to all of the attendees, the panelists, the moderators, the co-sponsors, and most of all the members of our planning committee! The Russell Library looks forward to finding ways to continue the conversations these events have started and hope you all want to help as the journey continues.

And now, on to the recap of our closing event! The seventh and final episode of the documentary, “Not Just a Paycheck,” profiles a small town in western Michigan where an Electrolux plant has recently closed. The audience meets dozens of the longtime employees who have been let go from their jobs of 15, 20, or 30 years, and finds them depressed and afraid of what the future will bring. They face not only unemployment and an uncertain financial future, but a stress-inducing situation leading to increased illness, depression, spousal abuse, and a questioning of self worth. The film also shows the impact of a similar factory closing on a town in Sweden, demonstrating the marked contrast in concern for workers between that country and the U.S.

Our panelists for this episode, who generously spent their Mother’s Day afternoon with us, were: James Shrum (Director of Nursing, Athens Regional Medical Center & member of the OneAthens Health Team), Dr. Katheryn Davis (School of Social Work, UGA), and Peter Hossler (Department of Geography, UGA). This week’s moderator was Dr. Margaret Holt, a member of our program planning committee and longtime friend of the Russell Library.

With a crowd of 30 attendees, we tackled many of the issues raised in the film, which in these tough economic times seemed more relevant than ever. Attendees quickly turned their attention to the rising cost of health care, asking questions about social responsibility and the role that local institutions (like Athens Regional & St. Mary’s) play in these rising costs.

Mr. Shrum fielded many of these cost questions and was also able to comment on the steps that OneAthens is taking to combat issues of cost and access to care in our community. Most notably, Shrum mentioned that one of the local free health clinics (Athens Neighborhood Health Clinic) recently obtained a level of federal support that will help in their service to the community. Dr. Davis discussed the issues of self worth associated with joblessness, and how in a country where people often define themselves by their careers, depression is a natural companion to job loss. Meanwhile, Mr. Hossler provided great perspectives from his research on healthcare safety nets in Wisconsin, and also spoke about the Living Wage Coalition at UGA – an ongoing effort to raise the level of income for staff members to a viable living wage.

Despite the smaller size of the audience, the discussion was vibrant and provocative. As we decamped to the snacks table after the program, many regular attendees confessed that they hoped these discussions would continue and begin to help shape more action from members of the community. Their sustained interest is great news for us. We’re already planning a public “next steps” meeting to talk about what we’ve learned and where community members are interested in going next – be it increased discussion, volunteerism, etc.

Our public meeting will take place on Sunday, June 7th from 3-5PM in the small conference room (next to the auditorium) at the ACC Public Library. As always, we’ll have healthy snacks on hand, as well as a few helpful speakers from local organizations. This will be a relaxed gathering focused on brainstorming ideas that will help us all to build on the knowledge and awareness we have gained about health equity from this series and to consider avenues for future work. If you participated in the Unnatural Causes series then please come back to help us move forward. If you missed the series, but have an interest in the social factors that influence health and health policy then, please join us. All are welcome.

Thanks, one final time, to everyone who participated in the series. And to those who couldn’t make it, stay tuned – hopefully we’ll have more great discussions coming soon. For more info on the June 7th gathering, email or call (706) 542-5788.

Would you like to give your feedback on these events? If so, just click here to fill out our online survey. This information will help us to craft new public program series from the Russell Library

Post by Jan Levinson, Assistant Outreach Archivist, Russell Library

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