Opinion: Two doctors: Voting on Dec. 6 matters for our health too

Credit: TNS

Credit: TNS

Georgia’s U.S. Senate runoff election is certain to have life and death consequences for health.

In the emergency department (ED), some minor car accidents can cause internal bleeding that can take hours to manifest. Sometimes bullet wounds can cause swelling of muscles that may cause additional damage hours later.

In every ED in the country, the best care happens when we can see patients a lot. As emergency physicians, we are constantly fine-tuning the craft of reassessment, because contrary to public opinion, hours spent in the waiting room do not culminate with a single 10-15 minute interaction.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

Just as in a busy ED, we as Georgians are now faced with a critical moment for reassessment that has immediate implications. Via the December 6th senate runoff election, we must determine how we want to leverage our civic engagement for both individual and population health. And if it wasn’t apparent, our decisions are certain to have life and death consequences that won’t wait for a follow-up visit.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

In short, policies with great implications are on the ballot. With respect to reproductive justice, In just the past month, Georgia’s “heartbeat ban” has gone from state law, to being deemed unconstitutional, to being reinstated as state law. While physicians may tolerate debate on whether reproductive rights are a matter of health equity, and although the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) provides some protections, access to treatments for tubal pregnancy and rape are not free of risk. Whomever is elected to the U.S. Senate could play an important role in additional federal protections for reproductive health.

Pediatric EDs across the state are being decimated with patients presenting with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). Since the closing of WellStar’s Atlanta Medical Center, Grady Memorial Hospital has experienced higher volumes of trauma patients. These new challenges come after the healthcare system has been stressed by a multiyear-long COVID-19 pandemic and healthcare workers are reporting unprecedented levels of burnout and poor mental health.

Patients continue to experience untenable costs for prescription medications and many Georgians remain uninsured. Increased funding for healthcare institutions and programs is part of the solution to many of these problems. However, Georgia is yet to embrace full Medicaid expansion or take full advantage of programming under the Affordable Care Act. The individual elected to the Senate on December 6th, will play a significant role in shaping the state’s future health program trajectory.

Although an Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll from this year revealed that climate was not a top issue for voters in November’s election, half of respondents believed that the U.S. needs to do more to address it. History tells us that many people do not fully recognize the impact of the environment on their health, and even when they do, they face other socioeconomic challenges that make them unable to change their present circumstances. To be clear, issues of climate and the environment can no longer be discussed in future tense.

They are negatively impacting Georgians at this moment. The quality of our air today can affect how severe asthma is today. Moreover, Georgia is home to Brunswick Wood Preserving and over 20 other Environmental Protection Agency-designated superfund sites, polluted locations that require long-term toxic and hazardous cleanup responses. The Inflation Reduction Act was an important step in addressing many environmental injustices but there is so much more work to be done. The result of December 6th will be critical for achieving an environmentally just future for Georgians.

Although we have focused on the importance of the December 6th Georgia senate runoff, there are also daily opportunities for reassessment and civic engagement on issues of health. Service volunteerism, social entrepreneurship, philanthropy/fundraising, advocacy and public education all represent ways that individuals can contribute to health initiatives on local, national and global levels. The first step is December’s runoff, but we must recognize that, like emergency care, civic engagement is an iterative process that will call on us to perpetually reassess and act on our collective standing.

Jamaji C. Nwanaji-Enwerem, M.D.,. Ph.D., M.P.P. is an emergency medicine resident physician and adjunct assistant professor of environmental health at Emory University.

Anwar D. Osborne, M.D., MPM, is associate professor of emergency medicine at Emory University School of Medicine.