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The Health Crises in Bushwick, Brooklyn and the perils of secularism

Take a look at the common interests of faith-based groups and hospitals in the medical crises in Bushwick

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Bushwick has immense, but preventable, health problems. The community and its neighbors have the largest numbers of preventable hospital admissions in Brooklyn. Every religious congregation is affected. There are many moral and spiritual dimensions to the health crises. If the local medical centers ignored the faith-based dimensions of the local Bushwick culture, it would be stripping health assets off its patients. Thankfully, Wyckoff Heights Medical center is trying to develop its common interests with the faith communities.

First, quite a few emergency room visits are related to the high rate of teen pregnancy and single parenthood in the area. The proportion of births by teenagers in Bushwick is one the highest in the entire north and central Brooklyn area. There is also a pretty low rate of prenatal care in comparison to other parts of the city. The rate of mortality among births in Bushwick is far higher than the average rate for New York State. The rate at which children are hospitalized for asthma is more than double the rate for the city as a whole.

The faith-based groups have had success in discouraging reckless pre-marital sex and stable marriages that are the foundation to the reduction of poverty, crime, and school drop-outs. Although the faith-based culture is not a total solution to these problems, it is a most important indigenous resource in Bushwick. Social workers take note!

There are other local health problems that a partnership between the hospital and faith-based groups could address.

Second, two-thirds of Wyckoff’s patients either don’t have health insurance or depend on state-funded insurance. This means that many people wait too long before getting treated. Church leaders are sometimes are called upon to help congregants who are too poor, weak or afraid to arrange hospitalization.

Third, the delay in seeking medical treatment is acute among Latino mothers and grandmothers. The hospital suggests that the delay is partly the result of a cultural value of older Latino women putting family first before self and a desire not to burden their families. The result is a fatal delay in diagnosing diseases like breast cancer. Consequently, the rate of late stage breast cancer admissions in Bushwick is much higher than the national average. This means that there are many unnecessary deaths due to breast cancer.

The rate of five-year remission for the disease first diagnosed at the 3rd stage is over three times  higher than the rate of remission for a diagnosis of the 4th stage. The rate of remission for the disease at its first stage is almost 100%. Although the remission or disappearance of the cancer for 5 years doesn’t necessarily mean a permanent cure, it is considered a pretty reliable sign of continued good health in the future.

Fourth, many of the medical ills of Bushwick (as well as in nearby East New York and Bedford-Stuyvestant) seem to originate in bad diets and too little exercise. Extremely dangerous rates of diabetes and high blood pressure probably contribute to a stroke rate among Bushwick residents that is 47% higher than that of New York City as a whole. Congregations certainly don’t want the Mothers of the churches dying before their time!

Fifth, the hospital also reports that each year it sees almost 3,000 people for alcohol and drug crises. This means that Bushwick has one of the highest rates of hospitalization for alcohol and drug crises in the city. And there are also very high rates of sexually transmitted diseases in the neighborhood. The situation sounds like an alarm for the do-gooders of the faith-based groups to get active.

Sixth, some religions have specific beliefs that can be accommodated for better medical results.  The medical center is already doing this. It has implemented a bloodless surgery program that honors the Jehovah’s Witness aversion to blood transfusions while also helping hemophiliacs, those who bleed too freely.

The Jehovah Witnesses represent a freedom of religion issue that has global implications. Do you know that Russia has just declared them to be a “terrorist and extremist organization” because their commitment to not shed blood extends to refusal of military service? Local Bushwick religious groups can also give them some notes of support while Russian Witnesses leaders are put on trial.

Indeed, going to the hospital, one can hardly miss the Witnesses, who stand with their literature cart from morning to evening on the sidewalk nearby. Their Kingdom Hall is just down the street.

A commitment to deal with the cultural and religious values of the local community may not solve all problems but certainly will build confidence in the hospital’s good intentions and skills. There are quite a few of the religious groups next door to the hospital, and most of the others in Bushwick are in walking distance.

Ron Mandile, the pastor at nearby Living Waters Fellowship, says that the hospital leaders would gain more attention if they would visit the churches in person to introduce themselves. He probably would throw away their letters for community health huddles if there is no previous personal contact. “If a person came here or had been here before, it is a different story. I would sit down and to talk to them.”





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