Though it represents a massive $3 trillion part of the U.S. economy, there is nothing more personal than healthcare. From prior to conception through death, healthcare is both deeply intimate and of enormous consequence to the wider public. It’s as unwieldy as it is manageable. Like everything, it’s how you look at it, and what you’re willing to invest—forgive the sloganeering—in being part of the solution.
Leaving policy debates aside for now—they’ve been discussed at length everywhere and I don’t want to get caught up in details—it’s important to focus on broader truths about healthcare in New York. The Empire State has opportunities and resources unlike other places, but also challenges—some unique to our city; others in common with everywhere else in America.
Consider Jewish nonprofits and hospitals and healthcare providers. From cradle to grave, and increasingly from difficulty conceiving to lengthy palliative care, this diverse community has long prioritized collective solutions to individual needs, without diminishing or subsuming the patient or his/her family. New York’s Jewish community, active here and in Israel, has always been at the forefront of vital research and service.
But it’s not just about the mechanics of healthcare delivery. It’s also about community response to poverty, hunger and food insecurity; supplemental education services; eldercare; wider social services; and whole-family support. Healthcare is about class, access, race, negotiating with authority, ethnicity and education—to name just a few considerations. Jewish communities, for generations, have been active in all these complicated issues—for themselves, their neighbors and the whole city.
And we don’t give up. The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty was a powerhouse in providing a wide range of social services for New Yorkers of all stripes. Knocked on its heels by a corruption scandal involving former leadership that surprised everyone (I can speak personally on this issue as I worked with this group for years), it needed to go in a different direction, to adapt. Thinking creatively about next steps, with the shadow of past troubles having receded, Met Council, as it’s called by everyone, selected a new leader in powerful Brooklyn City Councilman David Greenfield, who will be leaving elected office at the end of this calendar year to steer a new ship. David, a talented organizer and accomplished fundraiser, is ideally suited to the position.
There are other groups throughout the city and region that do similar good works, some or which you’ve heard of and some you haven’t. All of them make New York unique in its tackling of healthcare.
With over 12 million people in the metropolitan region, our sheer size and diversity pose challenges. Some cultures don’t prioritize treating mental health; some have illnesses associated with severe poverty. Some neighborhoods don’t have easy access to fresh, healthful foods, while others waste such staples. Diagnoses of some cancers regularly happen too late in some ethnicities, while others have public service announcements encouraging regular screenings for the same disease.
Of course, addiction is an illness and scourge that troubles all communities, with public and private resources called on to combat this growing epidemic. The myth that addiction doesn’t trouble the most observant Jewish communities is finally giving way to painful truths and honesty. Healthcare and social-service providers, schools, law enforcement, and civic and religious leaders everywhere are involved in this healing. Again, the personal is public.
Whether it be maternal care, caregiver support for aging baby boomers, eldercare, diabetes or cancer treatment, cardiac care, medical research, policy, or helping the countless professionals who run and staff healthcare facilities throughout the region, healthcare is not a specifically Jewish issue, but we’ve certainly been at the forefront of effective, progressive care.