Monday, March 24, 2008

Ahead of the curve in Athens, GA

Last week closed with a flurry of news stories about how the rich are not only getting richer but also living longer than poor people in America. These stories were triggered by a new analysis of Department of Health and Human Services data conducted by GK Singh and M. Siahpush.

The night before the story really broke, Grady College and OneAthens gave Athenians an advance look at another perspective on the same sad story. Together we previewed part one of "Unnatural Causes: Is inequality making us sick?"

This new PBS documentary series begins airing nationally on March 27. It is a fast-paced, vivid piece of filmmaking that turns mountains of data into flesh and blood stories about real people. Three of the characters work at the same hospital, but social and economic factors make their lives -- and life expectancies -- quite different.

During panel discussions after the screening, local activists and public health experts agreed that everything the filmmakers documented in Louisville, KY, also happens in Athens.

On the plus side, we've been engaged in a community-wide study of poverty for nearly two years now and have plans for addressing it. Partners for a Prosperous Athens has spawned OneAthens, the implementation stage of the effort, and Grady College ADPR students are helping publicize this effort.

So although we're far from perfect in the Classic City, we're already moving in a good direction.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Different voices

Parking lots are uncrowded, hallways are quiet, and outside the Japanese magnolias are unfurling their flowers. It's spring break and we have time to catch up on sleep and work.

When we come back on March 17, we'll resume the conversation that journalists have all the time: about stories and the many, many ways to tell them.

Thanks to the Peabody Awards and the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts we have a chance to hear from Neal Baer,a Hollywood writer-producer-physician-activist who is executive producer of the NBC series Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and a former writer and executive producer of the Peabody Award-winning ER.

Dr. Baer also maintains a pediatric practice, teaches college courses, and is part of an African HIV/AIDS awareness project. On the evening of March 17, he will give a lecture about entertainment's capacity to teach and heal, screen an ER episode he wrote, and engage in a conversation and Q&A moderated by Dr. Horace Newcomb, Director of the Peabody Awards. The event is free and takes place from 7:30 - 10:00 p.m. in the Tate Student Center movie theater.

Three weeks later, students in JRMC 8350 will hear from a dramatically different type of storyteller. Journalist, author and medical ethicist Harriet Washington just won the 2007 National Book Critics Circle award for nonfiction. Washington, who spoke last fall during the McGill symposium, was honored for her book Medical Apartheid: The dark history of medical experimentation on Black Americans from Colonial times to the present.

On April 9, Washington will be in class to talk about how she researched and wrote one especially chilling chapter in her brave, exquisitely researched book.

Neal Baer and Harriet Washington both tell important stories about health and disease, medical care and catastrophic neglect.

Both are voices we're fortunate to hear at UGA.