Taking office in the era of health care reform, Weather, a gynecologist who practices in both New Orleans and Shreveport, LA, has three key areas of focus in addition to the traditional role of the NMA president of eliminating health care disparities.
Minority women’s health, attention to the effects of the environment on minority health, and relief for African American physicians who are struggling economically will be additional issues that he will tackle.
“I’m very concerned about health care disparities, and one of the issues that is pervasive, of course, is health care reform. The health care legislation does have a major effect on us,” Weather said. “It’s not perfect, but it’s certainly better than what we had.”
Weather knows that these ongoing problems will not be solved quickly, but strategically over time. He says that educating physicians and patients is the solution as well as cooperation with schools, churches and other community organizations.
The issue of women’s health is actually a family health issue because of the role of women in their families.
“If you have a healthy woman or mother, then we’re assured to more likely have a healthy family,” Weather said. “If we look at the mothers, in many instances a low birth-weight child or if the child’s healthy — that may be a reflection on what the mother eats or doesn’t eat.”
Diet is an important part of women’s health, he said, because obesity is too prevalent, and obesity leads to many other health issues.
“We have to change this epidemic. It’s pervasive,” Weather said. “If you start looking at what’s involved if the woman is obese, it also links us to other illnesses — diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The No. 1 killer in women is cardiovascular disease, and that many times is a reflection of the diet.”
People’s health often reflects their environments, he said.
Many neighborhoods are “food deserts” with too many foods and drinks saturated with sugars, and too few healthy fruit, vegetable and milk options. In addition, smoking and mental health are also problems that should be addressed.
“Endometriosis and infertility are linked to obesity,” Weather said. “People need to know that a high BMI is not acceptable for African American women, and we need to educate them more about what BMI means and what being obese means. Many African American women kind of feel that in lieu of being obese, ‘I’m just overweight.’
“If a better diet was pushed and promoted to the community, to the churches and through various schools, I think we’d have a tremendous advantage in terms of decreasing obesity, and also decreasing cardiovascular disease, hypertension and premature death.”
As a resident of Louisiana, with its many oil refineries, the devastation of hurricane Katrina, and the recent oil spill, environmental issues are also a hot button for Weather. Research shows that millions of people live in houses and attend schools short distances from toxic waste sties and refineries. Respiratory ailments, endometriosis and bleeding problems are on the increase among African-Americans, he said.
“The numbers of children with respiratory problems and inhalers are up. They’ve never been like this before,” Weather said. “It’s an amazing thing, and I think clearly we need to be cognizant of this. The Agency for Toxic Substance and Disease Registry has a map that you can use to identify where all the various toxic waste sites are located. I truly feel that every state society of NMA should know what’s in their communities.
“So looking at environmental health, we clearly need to look at the causes of cancer, and even look at attention deficit problems, because that’s been linked,” he said.
The third major issue Weather hopes to address is the problems facing African American physicians. Even though 12 percent of the U.S. population is African American, only 4 percent of physicians are African American. More support of medical programs at traditional schools for African American physicians — Morehouse College of Medicine, Howard University and Meharry Medical College — is needed.
“More money is put for research and technology and less money to those schools that actually favor or have a devoted interest in producing primary care physicians, which is really what we need,” Weather said, adding that with 32 million more people expected to have better access to care under health system reform, more primary care physicians are needed.
And when those physicians enter practice, they face great financial burdens, such as paying student loans, increasing malpractice insurance premiums and declining reimbursements for treating Medicare and Medicaid patients.
“We have to protect and inform our physicians about the various insults that are taking place,” Weather said. “The better that physicians are treated so they can sustain themselves, then the quality of care is enhanced.”
A driver for this change is the health system reform legislation approved by Congress.
“We have to look at the good parts of it, magnify it and accept it,” Weather said of the legislation. “The parts that are not acceptable — we have to try to eliminate those things. “We have to improve on the law as it’s being implemented. This is what our task is with health care reform for the sake of our physicians, our patients and, of course, the communities. This is something we must do and shall do to fight for the underserved and our doctors.”