Michelle Obama photo

Remarks by the First Lady at Unity Health Care Center

June 29, 2009

MRS. OBAMA: Thank you. Thanks so much, Vincent. (Applause.) Well, I am delighted to be here. Thank you, Vincent, for that very Irish introduction. (Laughter.) Good, hearty. And we'll talk about our next trip.

MR. KEANE: Absolutely.

MRS. OBAMA: Haven't planned it yet, but we'll work on it. You got that down. I got my staff. You got it down. (Laughter.)

I also want to commend the center's manager, Margarita Lobo, who I got to meet earlier, and thank her and everyone, all the staff and patients and physicians who I got to meet and who are working here at Unity Health Care and the Upper Cardozo Center, for such an incredible warm welcome and such an informative session right before I came in. I am incredibly impressed by the people who have committed their lives to caring for the least of these.

And I'd also like to thank Administrator Mary Wakefield who I just got to meet -- administrator who was able to join me here today. Mary, thank you so much for your work.

As you all know, we're at a critical juncture in the debate about health care in this nation. The current system is economically unsustainable, and I don't have to tell any of you that. And despite having the most expensive health care system in the world, we're not necessarily healthier for it.

As the President and Congress begin to tackle health care reform, the flag is being raised on the costly effects of preventable diseases that burden our health care system. And community health centers like Upper Cardozo, Unity Health Care are a vital component for this discussion.

From the young to the old, from rural to -- communities to the inner cities, both the insured and uninsured, 17 million Americans rely on community health centers every year to help them stay healthy.

Access to primary care, preventative care, wellness and nutrition counseling help prevent chronic illnesses like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and high-blood pressure that consume 85 percent of the health care spending in our country.

But it's more than just an economic issue. It's about the quality of life for all of our citizens, particularly our kids. I have quoted these statistics on numerous occasions over the last few weeks as we've harvested the garden, and I've done other things, but I think it is so important that I keep repeating them, because these statistics are shocking and I want people to really remember what's at stake.

Nearly a third of the children in this country today are overweight or obese and a third will suffer from diabetes at some point in their lifetime.

When we look at the Hispanic and African American communities, those numbers climb even higher so that nearly half of the children in those communities will suffer this same fate. Half of those kids.

And for the first time in the history -- and this is the statistic that always gets to me as we have such a sophisticated health care system -- but this generation, medical experts have warned that they may be on track to have a shorter life span -- a shorter life span -- than their parents as a result of the obesity epidemic. And these statistics are unacceptable for any of us, for any child in any community.

So we need to educate kids about the need for healthy eating. These are conversations that we can have, as I've learned. The programs here at Upper Cardozo are doing that work each and every day, so we know how to have the conversations. We know what works. And it has done a good thing in promoting healthy living for many families who get services here.

The fact is these are all manageable and preventable conditions. We don't have to suffer from this. We can fix this. And community health centers are on the front lines of fighting these epidemics.

But to be effective in this fight, you're going to need more help, you're going to need more resources. And as Vincent alluded to, that's really one of the main reasons why I'm here today.

I am pleased to announce today the release of $850 million in Recovery Act grants to upgrade and expand community health centers across the country. (Applause.) This money will help community health centers reach more people in need and make all of our communities healthier places to live and to work. This is a new investment on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars that have already enabled health centers to expand and improve their services this year. So this is more.

For centers around the country, these Recovery Act grants will mean new diagnostic equipment, renovation of facilities that need repair, expanding computer centers to help manage electronic medical records, adding on new staff, expanding programs that work. And over the next two years, Recovery Act dollars for community health centers will expand desperately-needed services to more than 2.8 million people.

Right here at Upper Cardozo, as Vincent -- as we see in the diagrams, 20 new exam rooms will be built with the $2.5 million grant that's going to go to Unity Health Care to reach 24 percent more patients. (Applause.) And the thing you all know, that's going to have a major impact on the people who use these facilities who live in this community.

And the upgrades and expanded efforts at community health centers across the country will dramatically improve the immediate and long-term health of our people and our nation's health care system.

The power of well-resourced community health centers to change lives can be seen right here in Upper Cardozo. These statistics were good to see: Fourteen percent of the patients here at Unity have hypertension, but thanks to the care they receive, more than half of them have it under control. Those are really good numbers. Six percent of the patients who walk through the door at this facility -- in Unity's facilities have diabetes, and many of them are children. But because of the pediatric obesity services and the nutrition education programs available here, 71 percent of diabetic patients keep their condition in check. Again, preventable, manageable -- you all are doing it.

All these folks who, with your help, are able to better manage their chronic conditions do a number of things. They stay out of the hospital, they stay out of the emergency room, which is the most costly way to receive care in this country, and they stay on the job and in school instead. A win-win situation. Health centers are community catalysts that improve lives, and that's why this investment is so critical.

And there's another part of this equation beyond health. When Unity builds those 20 new exam rooms, they'll be creating jobs and putting people to work in construction and renovation. When a health center in rural Illinois purchases a new computer center, it's going to keep a programmer in the Silicon Valley on the job. So as we provide quality health care to more people, there will be this multiplier effect that will also provide more jobs to more workers.

Just think about the impact of all these Recovery Act grants all over the entire country. Every single health center that applied for a grant will receive at the very least $200,000.

And every dollar of every grant is going to make a difference in the life of someone in need.

An inner-city child with chronic asthma will play after school, right, because of these services. And they'll be able to concentrate on their homework as opposed to spending an afternoon or an evening sitting in the ER getting treatments that they don't have to get.

A single mom with proper care to manage her diabetes will get back to work full-time instead of staying out and using up sick days that she may not even have.

A grandmother in rural America will get regular checkups so she can be active in her neighborhood organizations. Maybe be my -- like my mom and help take the kids to school. (Laughter.)

And for those workers in the building trades this money will mean new jobs.

With these grants we will strengthen our communities, we'll strengthen our economy, and we'll strengthen our nation.

And I want to just thank everyone here at Unity and Upper Cardozo for your commitment, for your passion, because I met many passionate people -- (laughter) -- and for your continued focus on providing health care, quality health care, to every citizen regardless of their ability to pay.

We are hopeful that these funds will mean something in your lives directly, that you'll keep doing the programs that work so well: the literacy programs, the nutrition programs, the yoga classes, the classes with teens. I met some kids whose lives have been turned around because of the programs here. And by building capacity here by 24 percent, we just hope you keep doing more and more.

So thank you so much for sharing with me. Good luck in the future, and I'll talk about getting back for the ribbon-cutting. (Laughter and applause.)

Michelle Obama, Remarks by the First Lady at Unity Health Care Center Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/320211

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