Sewanee Multicultural Health Society opens Diversify Health Week with panel

By Rob Mohr
Staff Writer

The Sewanee Multicultural Health Society kicked off its Diversify Health Week on Monday April 1, with a panel in Gailor Auditorium on the social determinants of health, a term defined as “social factors that contribute to or undermine the wellbeing of an individual or community.”

The panelists discussed the four main social determinants: healthcare access, substance abuse, housing access, and food insecurity. The panel was comprised of Chastity Melton and Clyde Leeds of the Grundy County Safe Communities Coalition (GSCC); Alison Gower, the executive director of the Beersheba Springs Medical Clinic; Janet Miller-Schmidt from the Morton Memorial Food Pantry; Dixon Myers, founder of Housing Sewanee, Inc. and Jim Peterman, director of the Office of Civic Engagement.

To help make access to healthcare more available, Bonner Leaders volunteer at a clinic that provides health care to those who need it, without requiring a co-pay or any insurance at all. This clinic also provides dental care and classes to fix dietary habits that cause diseases like diabetes. Gower cited the many families that have an insurance plan but are unable to afford their deductible and thus unable to use their insurance as one of her primary motivations for her continued service to the community.

The GSCC helps fight substance abuse through a variety of programs, including the statewide “Count It! Lock It! Drop It!” initiative (CLD), which combats prescription drug abuse in Tennessee. CLD offers education and prevention programs, including free lockboxes for families and public dropboxes for prescription drugs (the Sewanee dropbox is located inside the Sewanee Police Department). The GSCC also provides families with drug testing kits, which Melton says offers teens an excuse to turn down drugs when offered.

Housing Sewanee deals with the housing issue by involving students and community members in the construction of affordable homes for families. Around 75 percent of families that the program helps are single mothers with multiple children. Housing Sewanee has already constructed 17 homes and is currently working on an energy efficient home that will reduce the stress that utility costs place on families. This home will feature recycled materials, geothermal heating and cooling, rain catchment and solar power.

The Morton Memorial United Methodist Church’s food pantry helps handle food insecurity on the Plateau. The second Saturday of each month, the pantry, with the help of around 60 volunteers, processes and distributes 15,000 lbs of food to around 120-125 “clients” or families. The pantry also began offering medical supplies, such as flu shots, in January. One of the main goals the pantry has for the future is to helps families better deal with preparation and storage.

A common theme brought to light by the panel was the interconnectedness of all of the above factors. For example, substance abuse can lead to financial issues which then mean poor access to housing, creating a poor environment for cooking, leading to nutrition related health issues which are difficult to treat because of difficulty accessing healthcare. On the other hand, saving money on housing (cheaper utilities from a more efficient home, like the one Housing Sewanee is building) frees up more money to spend on better food, helping to slowly break the cycle of poverty.