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January 2010 Issue

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Best Health Care Should Be 'Commonplace,' UC Doc Says

By Angela Koenig
Published January 2010

At a recent symposium on health care, guest speaker Elizabeth Kelly, MD, was giving an impassioned assessment of how UC Health provides quality care for the underserved women of Greater Cincinnati when an audience member leaned over to the person in the adjacent seat and whispered: “That woman is a saint!”

“Was it my dad?” a slightly embarrassed Kelly remarked upon hearing how her convictions had been characterized as saintly—because to her, access to the best health care should be a commonplace expectation, regardless of socio-economic status.

“The programs we have in place here make women realize that we really care about them as human beings, and that we believe society can work together to provide opportunity for everyone,” says Kelly, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology and medical director of the UC Health Women’s Health Services program, which is funded by UC Health University Hospital. 

The program is a network of UC Health University of Cincinnati physicians, midwives and nurses who partner with more than a dozen Greater Cincinnati community health centers to provide obstetric and gynecological services to women within their own communities. 

“Many of these women have barriers to going to a large medical center, with transportation definitely being one of them. If there’s a center right where they live, then they will go. The patients know that we care about them and I feel like they are empowered by that,” Kelly says.

Her altruistic beliefs, says the 1984 UC College of Medicine graduate, were born out of personal exposure to how community health services for women function as a stabilizer in an often unstable environment. Kelly completed her residency training in 1988 at Columbia University in New York City, but her first position as a physician was at a medical center in the Bronx.

She says the issues that impacted these women or their families there—poverty, domestic violence, mental illness and drug use, for example—are inherent barriers to going outside the community for assistance of any kind.

“Underserved women are vulnerable, and a woman who was African-American or Latina and was underserved became a fourth-class citizen. It was here that I really began to realize the importance of the community health center. I had trained at this very outstanding, large medical center but a very short distance away there were people who did not leave their community to access that care.”

Those same barriers, she says, exist in most all urban areas, including Greater Cincinnati.

“It is such a privilege to work with UC Health. We want women to realize there are no fourth-class citizens, and in return we expect something from them, too … to become strong women who take control of their lives as best they can.” 

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