An Antiguan-born, retired New York City public health nurse manager is advocating for healthcare for families and communities.
Bronx resident Ingrid Baptiste, who had supervised the clinical practice and assisted in the training of public health nurses and allied staff in New York City school system, delivered the keynote address, on Sat., Oct. 8, at the 26th Annual Vernese Weekes Scholarship Luncheon at the Eastwood Manor on Eastchester Road, Bronx.
The gala affair was organized by the Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester Chapter of the Caribbean American Nurses Association (BMW-CANA), Inc.
Baptiste – who served as BMW-CANA’s vice president for two terms, 2016-2018 and 2019-2020, and currently serves as corresponding secretary — said she chose the topic, “Healthcare Advocacy,” as “a call to action, so we, the people, can advocate and improve the healthcare for our families and our communities.“Advocacy involves promoting the interest or cause of another individual or group. Advocacy is about helping people find their voices. Advocacy is about empowering people,” she said.
“Healthcare is not only about medical care, e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure, etc.; health is defined as the ability to remain free from illness, injuries and diseases,” she added.
Noting that many factors combine to affect the health of individuals and communities — such as health, social, economic and physical environments, and a person’s characteristics and behaviors, known by the World Health Organization (WHO) as determinants — Baptiste said healthcare advocacy has specific functions, but added that the core principles remain the same.
“Find solutions to the problems encountered by individuals or groups, and empower them through guidance and support,” she urged. “Healthcare advocacy is about safeguarding individuals and helping them navigate the fragmented, cumbersome, confusing, multilayered healthcare system in the US.”
Baptiste — who started her professional nursing journey as a nurse, midwife and family planning practitioner in the United Kingdom — said that, when people work to change what happens for a whole group or community of people, it is called systems advocacy.
She said health systems advocacy aims to make positive changes to attitudes, policies, systems and laws in the health arena.
“Its focus is on the rights and interests of health consumers,” said Baptiste, who holds a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from The City College of the City University of New York (CUNY) and a Master of Science in nursing and health care management from the College of New Rochelle.
She said many of the groups that lobby for change have been created by people who have experienced issues and barriers within the health system.
“They have worked successfully to achieve change and improvements that make the system work better for anyone who uses it,” she said. “Together, they have a stronger voice, which is more likely to be heard.”
Baptiste said many systemic problems may require governmental advocacy and intervention, but added that, in some instances, the problems are brought to their attention through community partnerships and people using the power of advocacy.
She said legislative action is one of the most common ways in which systems change.
For example, Baptiste said the 1990 passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) mandated accessibility and accommodations for all people with disabilities.
“ADA would not have been in existence if not for vigorous and sustained advocacy by many people,” she said.
Baptiste also said that persons with physical and mental disabilities have had their quality of life enhanced by the many accommodations provided by this civil rights act.
For instance, she said individuals in wheelchairs are “practically guaranteed to find accessible ramps in most public places and healthcare facilities, which has increased their mobility, social interactions and independence.”
The retire health care professional said the general public has become the unintended beneficiaries from ADA mandates, such as use of the curbside ramps – “those colored nonslip plates on sidewalks that ease the movements of strollers, shopping carts, etc. and the beeping alerts at the pedestrian crossings to accommodate the visually impaired.”
She pointed to work done by organizations such as the AARP, formerly called the American Association of Retired Persons, as another example of Systems Healthcare Advocacy.
Baptiste said government policies are linked to public health services, through education, better sanitation, safer foods and water, and promotion of healthy habits, among other things.
She said healthcare advocacy by public health practitioners and community efforts can ensure the sustainability of these policies that improve the quality of life and longevity.
Baptiste said advocacy on an Individual Scale involves an individual or group whose focus is on helping one or two persons.
She noted that studies have shown that greater support from families, friends and communities is linked to better health.
“Patients often are faced with uncertainties and contradictory and unreliable information during their illness, whether as inpatient or outpatient,” Baptiste said. “A professional healthcare advocate can be the solution to this problem.
She said an individual healthcare advocate is usually a professional such as a registered nurse, social worker or personnel hired as a healthcare advocate.
“They can provide for patients and families, direct customized assistance in navigating the health care system,” Baptiste said. “By and large, individual advocacy is done usually by a spouse, relative, trusted friend, or caregiver.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that it is imperative that healthcare advocacy be proactive, urgent, bold and persistent,” she added. “Communities with substandard health care systems and public health deficiencies must allow their voices to be heard loud and clear.”
Baptiste said that developing and maintaining healthcare systems that are “transformational, innovative and equally accessible to all will ensure that communities will be able to withstand any devastation, when the next disaster or pandemic strikes.”