Establishing Trust & Empowering Communities in Healthcare with Natasha Davis
For our fourth episode of Moving Healthcare Forward, I had the pleasure of speaking with Natasha Davis, MBA, Director of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey. She is one of the key leaders within VNA Health Group’s Children and Family Health Institute and a member of the Employee Council on diversity, inclusion and health equity. Today, we discuss how we can ensure vulnerable populations get the healthcare they need, and how we can empower more people to live healthy lives.
Barriers to Accessing Care and Building Trust
Natasha Davis has always been passionate about health. From a young age, she noticed the chronic health conditions that her family members suffered from, including diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol. As people of color, many of her family members were at a high risk for these health conditions as well as for certain types of cancer — and she also saw that they had more trouble accessing good-quality healthcare.
These experiences encouraged Davis to enter a profession in healthcare. She has worked extensively to ensure that the people in her community get screened for cancer through the New Jersey Cancer Education and Early Detection Program (NJ CEED). Many patients she works with don’t get regular important screenings, such as pap smears for cervical cancer, in part due to the hurdles they must overcome to access healthcare.
Davis describes how, when she first moved to New Jersey from Pittsburgh, she had a lot of difficulty navigating a new healthcare system and finding the resources she needed — despite having worked in healthcare herself. At one point, she recalls not being able to afford her son’s asthma medication. “It hit home that I could not, as a citizen, find resources,” she says. It made her wonder how many other people in her community might be having the same problems, especially those with less knowledge of their own health, those who might be undocumented, and those who might not speak English as their first language.
In addition to these barriers, Davis talks about the battle to build trust between providers and the community. Especially in communities of color, many people have trouble getting good care, or getting care in the first place — something she saw in her own family, and then again during her own second pregnancy, when her concerns were dismissed at prenatal appointments. “Just because I’m a Black woman, and I’m strong, there’s this presumption that Black women can handle more,” she says.
There are significant disparities when it comes to the Black infant and maternal mortality rate. In fact, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that Black women are three times more likely to die from a pregnancy-related cause than white women. Avoiding unnecessary C-sections is one critical way to help address this — yet Davis’ doctor failed to take this into consideration. Davis found a new provider who listened to her concerns and carefully reviewed her charts, and together they ended up deciding that a C-section was the safest way to go; but throughout every step of that decision-making process, Davis felt heard and seen. It can be hard enough for people to speak up to their healthcare providers, Davis explains, which is why it’s so important that they be met with sympathetic ears and taken seriously.
Changing for the Better: Establishing Trust and Empowering Communities
Davis believes that we have to change things to ensure that patients are able to access compassionate, professional care. VNA Health Group provides patients with transportation to and from their healthcare appointments and helps cover the cost of their care, which can certainly help — but building that trust between patient and provider must come from a more personal level. Davis recounts how she and her team use Google Translate to help their patients who aren’t native English speakers feel more comfortable. It allows them to establish trust and comfort, and makes patients more likely to come back and get those important screenings.
In addition, Davis stresses the importance of holistic, comprehensive care. “We can’t treat patients as if they are a number,” she says. “Everyone has a different story; we have to listen to those stories if we’re really going to get at the root cause of some of these problems.”
Listen to our episode with Natasha Davis, Director of Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at Visiting Nurse Association of Central Jersey, on Apple Podcasts here, or on Spotify here.
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