With the return of Roanoke College students, the First Thursday free programs led by faculty at downtown Salem’s Mill Mountain Coffee and Tea eatery have resumed.
Held from 8-9 p.m. near the restaurant’s entry, they are generally well attended by a mix of students and the interested public. The atmosphere is informal and somewhat noisy with a few late diners in the rear.
The first offering of the season, “Mending the Gap: Unequal Access and Care in U.S. Health Policy,” introduced a new program for training in public health being offered by the college this year. Its coordinator, Dr. Shannon Anderson, a sociologist, shared her views along with Dr. Bryan Parsons, an assistant professor of political science.
Several questions were raised at the conclusion of the talks, but the two faculty members could offer no satisfying solutions other than to suggest that in another decade or so some form of government-sponsored free or low-cost medical care may become a fact of life for Americans. It will come about, they believe, if the political factions in Congress can bring themselves to compromise.
We were, however, enlightened about the scope of the problem and how law-makers have in the past effected social change. I picked up these major points:
- Americans, who tend to individualism, think anyone who works hard enough is bound to be able to climb the ladder of success in business. It is easy for those reared on such a philosophy to resist “big government” efforts to provide such amenities as health care for the poor.
- In other countries where free health care has been provided for 75 years or more, class distinctions are often readily accepted and the ideal of surmounting them is less of a factor.
- Despite the ideal of all Americans working their way out of poverty, many never do for a variety of reasons such as being part of a minority race, religion, sexual identity or being unable to communicate satisfactorily as is true with the increasing number of immigrants and refugees in the Roanoke area.
- Where one lives in Virginia makes a huge difference in being able to get even minimal medical care. Within a 90- minute drive of Salem the only dental, optometric or general medical treatment available is what comes once a year on a mobile unit where many wait for hours to get relief or a diagnosis. If an urgent care office is nearby, its staff has no on-going relationship with a patient.
Parsons, the political science specialist, told the group about the evolution of social change. Using the development of racial integration in public education, which began in 1954 , as an example, he noted that inclusion of minorities did not happen at once.
- Long after black and white children were attending public schools together, those who could not cope with a standard classroom because of physical or mental disabilities were getting no education. Some states also used the separate but equal practice to set their own standards to the detriment of pupils such as the transgendered. Today even that is changing with court action.
- Compromise, in which both sides give and take with no one entirely pleased, comes about as old policies are seen to be unworkable for current conditions.
- One feature of the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) likely to stay is the coverage of previous medical conditions, for both parties have raised the least objection to this.
- Future First Thursday Night programs will deal with “Witches and Witch Hunters,” “Toy Like Me: A More Inclusive Toy Box” and “Law and the Protestant Reformation.”
On a different note, I recently attended my second birthday party in as many years for a Centenarian. This time the honored guest was George M. Overstreet who reached the big 100 on Friday, Sept. 15. A former bass soloist in Calvary Baptist Church in downtown Roanoke and later –where I knew him—at St. Episcopal Church choir in Salem, Overstreet resides at The Park Oak Grove retirement community.
Until two years ago he continued to sing in the Salem choir and some of its current members presented an original song for him composed by Rose Ann Burgess, a former director of music at St. Paul’s.
In July 2016 I was at a similar event held in Fincastle for Melville Carico, a long-time political reporter for The Roanoke Times. He’s still around at slightly past 101.