You Can Trust that I Will
An Open Letter from a Caring and Compassionate Granddaughter
March 23, 2016
My grandmother used to say, "You never miss the water until the well runs dry." The phrases I often heard about the water crisis and now the donated water include:
- "I don't know where that water is coming from.”
- “I don't know what's in that water. Most of us don't want that water, we would rather buy our own.”
- “You know people can be mean...and put stuff in that water!"
These statements from my elders caused me to have a moment of reflection. I was surprised to hear such comments knowing that the cost of the water for individuals on a fixed income is expensive. Not to mention that it can be a burden for the elderly to carry heavy cases of water for daily use.
It was at this point that I realized as an African American healthcare provider I had forgotten some of the atrocities that have occurred to African Americans, the poor and/or the disenfranchised. The Tuskegee syphilis experiment that withheld treatment, allowed for a treatable disease to run rampant, ravaged the health of African American men, and placed their families at risk for poor health. "Tuskegee" (as my elders call it) was an experiment in the quest to understand the trajectory of this disease left untreated, even though penicillin was the standard treatment. These individuals trusted researchers that performed what we now consider unethical methods of research. From an academic's perspective, this is how I understand Tuskegee.
My elder’s generation learned about what happened in Tuskegee, and to them, it means that African Americans were used without any regard for individuals or the generations to come. The fact that research participants did not know what they were receiving is synonymous to how my elders see the Flint water crisis. They didn't know what was in the water, and they didn't know if anyone was telling them the truth. Once the Flint water crisis became nationally known, donated water came from everywhere. Elders weren't sure if this was a well-meaning act or another means of mistreatment in the African American community.
For this generation, Tuskegee has not been that long ago. It was at this point that I could understand the memories of Tuskegee in relation to the water crisis. This is one reason why some of the elderly residents had an initial hesitancy to receive, except and/or use the donated water. Now that the water crisis is having a prolonged effect on their lives, they are more willing to accept the water and more open to accept the help.
The overall issues impacting this community are trust, quality, and safety. There is trust that elected government officials will do the ethical thing and take care of its constituents. There is trust that when you pay for services you will obtain quality services and safe drinking water. There is belief that you are taking care of your family in the best manner that you know how; aided by the support of community services that do no harm. There is also trust that the community has healthcare providers that will deliver quality care in their time of need.
As a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, I have to wonder about how outside healthcare providers may be seen in an effort to care and support healthcare providers and the community. The water crisis will be examined in the years to come to determine the toxic water effects on the health and health outcomes of individuals, the community, and the land. How will healthcare providers from outside be welcomed in the days, weeks, and years to come? How can we build trust to ensure optimal healthcare outcomes?
I don't have all the answers however the term "community service" means just that. Free health fairs that were held in the community is a start. Visible healthcare support from local universities and professional healthcare organizations utilizing an interdisciplinary approach is evident.
It is our job as healthcare providers to continue policing and monitoring the recent events, legislation, and government funding to see that the community returns to a stable state. We are not just providers but we are the sons, daughters, and family members in nearby communities who believe it is our responsibility to collect the water, distribute the water, and collectively utilize our skills to give back to the Flint community.
The overall goal is to restore the trust and health of families in Flint. You can trust that I will volunteer, I will be there, and I will bring water. I will bring my stethoscope and nursing expertise. I will bring my caring compassion to help the community that raised me up as a child. I will support my Flint family, friends, and colleagues.