Fulfilling Dr. King's Vision for Health Care

Aug 24, 2011, 2:54 PM, Posted by mtomlinson

“Two generations ago Dr. King issued a stinging indictment of the inequalities of the health of Americans,” Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, M.D., M.B.A., said yesterday at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Health Equality Summit in Washington, D.C. “He said, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health is the most shocking and the most inhumane.’ He was spot-on then—and it’s still spot on today.”

Lavizzo-Mourey was a keynote speaker at the annual two-day summit, hosted by The Institute for the Advancement of Multicultural & Minority Medicine. The summit is part of a week-long series of events leading up to the August 28 dedication of the new memorial honoring Dr. King on the national mall in Washington, D.C.

Lavizzo-Mourey recounted her family’s relationship with the civil rights leader, and her meeting with him as a young girl—a meeting that made a lasting impression. “My thin connection to that slice of history has influenced the narrative of my entire life,” she said.

Urging the hundreds of leaders present to act on Dr. King’s call, Lavizzo-Mourey said: “America cannot reconcile the differences that divide us without also reconciling the inequality and injustice that’s embedded so deeply in the health and health care of our people.”

She cited RWJF-supported initiatives and programs that are working to reduce disparities and improve health care equality across the country, including the Foundation’s half-billion dollar investment to prevent childhood obesity and improve access to healthy food in low-income areas and “food deserts.” RWJF’s Health Leads program helps low-income patients and their families gain access to fresh food and connects them with resources the health system often overlooks such as heating assistance.

“The bottom line is that fairness in health and equality in health care are singular human rights,” Lavizzo-Mourey said. “Achieving them is an elemental force for social justice. Sustaining them is an imperative for the well-being and security of all our peoples… This, then, is the task before us. To make a way out of no way. To transform yesterday’s darkness into tomorrow’s bright light. To bend the arc of America’s good health toward justice. And to know that the dream will never die.”

Read a transcript of Lavizzo-Mourey’s remarks.

Learn more about the Martin Luther King, Jr., Health Equality Summit.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.