Mid Mo conference seeks to address statewide health disparities

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COLUMBIA — Doctors, educators and activists from all over the country met Friday for a conference, with the goal of diminishing health disparities throughout Missouri. 

With the theme "Healthy Lives - Healthy Communities," health professionals had honest conversations about where Missouri health is falling short, and what can be done to turn some things around.

This was the first year the conference expanded past medical practices, and included other contexts people may have that affect their health and health care. 

"We have the best health care system in the world for people with money," said Karen Edison, Director at the Center for Health Policy. 

She said a disparity most people suffer from is health literacy. 

“You can go in to the doctor’s office or the hospital and they can use a word like cancer, or Lupus, or Melanoma that can just stop understanding, and you’re health literacy can go way down in an instant," Edison said. “If we don’t give it to them in a way they can understand it, and use it, we haven’t done our job.”

She said the purpose of the conference was to help health professionals understand all of their patients, and their array of needs. 

“We may think we don’t see color, we may think we don’t see gender, we may think that none of these things really matter, but they do, and they do affect the outcomes," she said.“We need to go beyond the four walls of our clinics and our hospitals.”

President of the Missouri Foundation for Health Bob Hughes said without a doubt, the most apparent disparity he's seen in Missouri lately is race.

“Those are reflected in everything from shorter lifespans to less access to health care, having lower health care access opportunities, Hughes said. “I want to leave this society better for my kids, and the next generations than we have today.”

President and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation, and Co-Chair of the Ferguson Commission Starsky Wilson also said he attended the conference not just to make change, but for his kids. 

“I care as a dad whose sons and daughters will grow up in this environment," Wilson said. 

He's seen and worked with African Americans firsthand who have had their race affect their health. 

“People are living 18-20 years longer if they’re living in a community that’s predominantly white," Wilson said.

The greater context of how health affects all parts of a person's life was essential to this conference for him. 

“Everything is health, and health is everything," Wilson said.