Several years ago, I had the opportunity to work in hospice in Philadelphia. One of the most tragic and painful things to which I bore witness was the number of people who had no access to health insurance. As a result, they wound up being placed on our hospice service for diagnoses that might not have become fatal, had they had the privilege of having access to care earlier. They had treatable illnesses, but they could not afford the care that they needed until it was too late.
We just recently read, in Parashat Mishpatim [the weekly Torah portion called rules or ordinances], that our Torah commands us not to exploit the poor nor the stranger. Our Torah asks us to love our neighbors as ourselves, to choose life and to pursue justice. For those of us who live in the United States, we should ask ourselves how we apply these principles when it comes to health care.
The Talmud tells us that if we save the life of one person, it is as if we have saved the life of a whole world. Sadly, there are still worlds upon worlds that need to be saved. Not everyone has access to health care, nor the ability to receive the care that they need. As Jews, we are commanded to advocate for those who cannot advocate for themselves, and to do whatever we can to help those in need.
This is why I was deeply moved when I learned about KentuckyOne Health’s close partnership with Surgery on Sunday, Inc., which is a non-profit, volunteer organization that provides essential surgical services to low-income patients for free. Immediately, I was flooded by memories of all of the patients who I had watched pass away, who might still be alive, had they been able to get the care that they needed earlier.
Coming up on March 22 at Medical Center Jewish East, Jewish Hospital surgeons and staff will be participating in our next Surgery on Sunday event. Over 60 individuals from across our city will be able to receive the surgery that they need. Several of these include colorectal surgeries for individuals to help treat and prevent colon cancer.
This is just one of our many initiatives to try to go outside of our hospital walls to care for our community- especially the underserved amongst us. If you are interested in learning more about this, or some of our other community health initiatives, please contact me at Jewish Hospital.
Kentucky has some of the worst health measures in the nation. If we look at a map of Kentucky, those with the worst health outcomes also tend to live in the poorest parts of our state. The co-relation between poverty and health outcomes is well documented, and, as such, our mission to care for all, including the underserved, means that our community outreach and advocacy efforts emphasize a comprehensive approach to wellness and equity. Healing the body is not enough – we must commit to healing and hope, education, access and opportunity for everyone.
We do this with programs such as our Health Connections Initiative which provides community based support to low-income individuals who deal with chronic illness or our partnership with the Network Center for Community Change that works to improve the health status of residents in Louisville’s urban core neighborhoods.
Cancer continues to be a critical issue for many of us living in this state. While Kentucky’s colon cancer rates have decreased over the last decade, we continue to have amongst the highest rates in the nation.
I am grateful that Jewish Hospital, as a part of KentuckyOne Health, is able to advocate on a statewide level for policies that can help to save lives. Just this past week, some of our physicians and policy advocates were able to help pass Senate Bill 61 which seeks to expand insurance coverage for procedures related to fecal tests to screen for colon cancer.
These are just a few of our population health initiatives to make a difference in our city and in our state.
The Talmud reminds us: “Kol Yisrael arevim zeh lazeh” – we are all responsible for one another. We are one human family, created in the Divine image. When we work together to save lives, we are saving worlds upon worlds. May the time come soon and speedily when health outcomes no longer depend on socioeconomic status.