Lt. Gov. Stratton Visits GSU to Celebrate Southland Stroke Bill
Calling quality, accessible healthcare a right, not a privilege, Lt. Governor Juliana Stratton issued a proclamation during a recent visit to honor Governors State University (GSU) for its work in creating the Stroke Prevention and Awareness Bill (House Bill 5014).
The Stroke Prevention and Awareness Bill creates a partnership between GSU’s College of Health and Human Services (CHHS) and the Illinois Department of Public Health to establish an educational campaign tailored to communities at high-risk for stroke.
Sharing the alarming statistic that 59% of African American women over the age of 20 are living with cardiovascular disease, Stratton said, “This is unacceptable. This is preventable; and in Illinois we are taking steps to address this crisis.”
Research has shown that the risk of having a first stroke is nearly twice as high for African Americans as for whites, and African Americans have the highest rate of death due to stroke.
State Rep. Debbie Meyers-Martin, who sponsored House Bill 5014, was supported in the effort by CHHS Director of Community Outreach, Program Development and Academic Support, Dr. Tonya Roberson, and a community-based organization, The Far South Chicago Coalition – Quality of Life.
“We must begin to address these disparities with education. GSU is instrumental in this campaign because of the inspiration I received from Dr. Tonya Roberson and the College of Health and Human services that provided the information I needed to create this legislation,” said Rep. Meyers-Martin.
According to CHHS Dean Dr. Catherine Balthazar, GSU faculty, staff, and students will actively engage in the assessment phase, selecting, creating, and then delivering stroke awareness and prevention information in the community.
“The Southland Stroke Prevention and Awareness Campaign is an important initiative for Chicago’s Southland as it is home to much of the region’s African American suburban population, a demographic that has been disproportionately impacted by stroke,’’ said Dr. Balthazar.
The ceremony, timed to highlight the CHHS Black History Month event, included remarks from Lt. Governor Stratton, GSU Provost Dr. Beverly Schneller, State Representative Debbie Meyers-Martin, Dr. Tonya Roberson, and guest speaker, Dr. Knitasha Washington.
Dr. Roberson expressed that her passion and advocacy for this cause was rooted in a personal experience with someone who suffered a stroke. Her mother, Dorothy Roberson, suffered a second stroke in 2014. The 85 1/2-year-old GSU alum recovered, and attended the ceremony, a point of pride for Dr. Roberson.
“This is a partnership that started from a passion for a mission to develop an awareness and prevention program accomplished through education. Education is a significant social determinant that influences a person’s health over the course of a lifetime,” said Roberson.
Dr. Knitasha Washington (’02), a GSU Alum and President and Founder of ATW Health Solutions, was guest speaker. She had planned to use the Masters of Health Administration she earned from GSU and run a hospital, but instead she decided to drive outcomes that actually improved the community.
In 2014, Washington in collaboration with doctors from Rush and Northwestern hospitals, embarked on research regarding the disparities in stroke rates. She, along with Roberson and others, went to African American communities, talked with community members, and conducted focus groups.
Their research showed that behavioral issues were part of the problem. They learned that people didn’t call 911 because “they were afraid of the police; they feared receiving the $500 ambulance bill after receiving care; there was a lack of trust in the health system; and because some people waited for hours until someone returned home from work to seek care,” said Washington.
“This information is crucial because time matters. You have 3.5 hours to get to care. If you get to care timely enough, many of the symptoms of stroke can be reversed.” Dr. Knitasha Washington.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, the Lt. Governor’s reading of the entire proclamation for the Stroke Prevention and Awareness Bill drew much applause.
“Quality, accessible healthcare is a right, not a privilege. We must remain focused on improving health outcomes for our most vulnerable,” said Stratton. “This legislation is a major stride that will bring us closer to health equity for all. Lives will be saved and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate black history than by saving black lives.”
Also present for the ceremony were GSU Board of Trustee members, Jim Kverdaras and Anibal Taboas, Cook County Commissioner Donna Miller, along with local mayors, trustees, and other local officials.