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Women with Disabilities: Leading the Way to Quality Health Care

At mid-day on Thursday, April 4, 2013 the Konover Great Room filled with a diverse group of health care stakeholders gathered to address issues facing an overlooked patient population: women with disabilities. Three expert panelists brought different perspectives to the panel discussion. 

Monika Mitra, an assistant professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Massachusetts (UMASS) is also a research scientist at the UMASS' Center for Health Policy and Research. Mitra provided an overview of current research knowledge on women with disabilities. In preparation for her presentation she searched the literature for data concerning women with disabilities in Connecticut and found it lacking. (Before the day ended, several audience members had agreed to meet to improve data collection and analysis of this population in Connecticut.) Mitra referenced data collected and analyzed in nearby Massachusetts and Rhode Island to demonstrate the disparities between women with disabilities and women in the general population in relation to obtaining mammograms, becoming a victim of violence, and exhibiting healthy behavior during pregnancy.

Sacheen Nathan, an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Boston University Medical Center illustrated the challenges facing women with disabilities by citing examples from her practice. Accessibility to health care was by far the greatest barrier. She noted as well that time with a patient was often inadequate to meet the needs of women with disabilities. She finds speaking to such patients about their individual needs prior to a visit to her medical practice greatly improves her success in providing the care they need. In fact, she commented that these women know their bodies best and can guide their health care providers in facilitating their care.  Generally, Nathan feels that there should be a greater effort made to provide women with disabilities the means to obtain health care equal to that of women in the general population - no more... no less.

Molly Rees Gavin, the president of Connecticut Community Care, Inc., spoke from the perspective of a community provider and from the heart of one who has befriended and come to know women with disabilities.  She began by directing the audience’s attention to the plight of women with disabilities globally and the critical need to advocate with and on behalf of all women.  Rees Gavin explained how issues of diversity merge with and compound the challenges of living with a disability.   Sharing quotes from women who have disabilities, Rees Gavin brought to life the lack of intimacy these women face and the sense of isolation and deprivation that results.  Rees Gavin closed her remarks with a call for continued advocacy efforts toward creating communities that are inclusive of all individuals.

The presentations were recorded.  A transcript with highlights will be added to this site. Check back soon.  Plans are being developed to follow up with a fall session on public health policy and women with disabilities. 

Eileen Healy
Eileen M. Healy moderated the two-hour panel discussion. Healy is the executive director of Independence Northwest (IN). IN was one of the first centers for independent living in the country to offer services to people living with HIV and AIDS. In partnership with the Western Connecticut Area Agency on Aging, IN has formed an Aging and Disability Resource Center for northwestern Connecticut.

Director of the Center for Health Care and Education Policy, Diana LaRocco and Dean of the College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions Ralph O. Mueller welcomed guest speakers Sacheen Nathan, Molly Rees Gavin, Monika Mitra, and attendees to the University of Hartford.
speakersFront Row
Sacheen Nathan - Assistant Professor, Obstetrics and Gynecology at Boston University Medical Center
Molly Rees Gavin - President, Connecticut Community Care, Inc
Back Row
Ralph O. Mueller - Dean, College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions, University of Hartford
Diana LaRocco - Assistant Professor and Director, Center for Health Care and Education Policy, College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions, University of Hartford.
Monika Mitra - Assistant Professor of Family Medicine and Community Health and Research Scientist at the  Center for Health Policy and Research, UMASS

Several entities came together to co-sponsor this informative panel discussion: