Activities & Organizations

Houston’s health heats up conference

Several prominent UH and Houston figures, such as UH President and Chancellor Renu Khator, middle, and mayor Annise Parker, right, spoke to share what they are doing in order to improve the health of the Houston community. | Esteban Portillo/The Daily Cougar

The UH Hilton was abuzz Friday with everything from obesity and mental health to Medicaid expansion and the recent Affordable Care Act at the Faculty Senate’s 15th Scholarship and Community Conference, “Greater Houston’s Health-Urban Healthcare in the 21st Century.”

The conference featured a variety of speakers who shared their experiences and knowledge on Houston health. The focus was not just on what needs to be improved, but what the city and UH are currently doing to improve. Speakers included Mayor Annise Parker, Harris County Judge Ed Emmett and President and Chancellor Renu Khator.

Parker spoke about the importance of obtaining mental health care for the homeless. There are about 8,500 homeless individuals in the city.

For those homeless who need to visit the emergency room or otherwise receive health care, high medical bills are a serious problem, Emmett said.

“We have to change that. Families are not able to take care of them because it is too expensive, so they end up in jail,” Emmett said.

Emmett’s focus is to “get everyone preventive care and out of the emergency room and into medical homes.”

Faith Foreman, assistant director at the Houston Department of Health and Human Services, discussed the state of public health in Houston.

The top concern was obesity, as 65 percent of Houston adults are overweight and 35 percent of children are obese. Houston will partner with UH to establish diabetes centers, which will help fight the rise of diabetes the city has seen since 2002. One of those centers, the Diabetes Awareness and Wellness Network Third Ward Multi-Service Center, has UH interns already serving the under-served.

Foreman addressed the issue of lack of grocery stores in certain parts of Houston, colloquially called “food deserts.” The Food Desert Task Force will incentivize grocers to set up in low-income areas. Parker also discussed how they are implementing produce wagons to set up in food desert areas, giving access to fresh food to those who may otherwise go without.

With the Affordable Care Act in effect, many of the conference attendees wanted to know how to shop for the best health plan.

There are four different levels of coverage: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. For example, a 27-year-old with an income of $25,000 on the lowest level, bronze, with a tax credit will pay $81 as a premium.

“Working out in the community, we see many people who fall in the ‘donut hole,’ and I’m really concerned about their access to healthcare,” said Lance Bean, community relations specialist at Texas Children’s Health Plan.

The donut hole refers to those who cannot afford to buy a plan under the new marketplace, yet who do not qualify for Medicaid.

The city has begun knocking on doors to get people insured and answer any questions on the new healthcare reform.

“So far, there have only been a couple of hundred calls to our call center,” said Benjamin Hernandez, an executive in public health administration at City Hall.

Hernandez said he believes this number will increase in approximately a month once many get access to the website and information.

The conference allowed Houston and UH professionals, community members and others to find ways to unite in reducing the amount of uninsured citizens.

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