Sen. Montgomery Hosts Women’s Health Forum

-A +A


Bringing a Voice to Women of the Diaspora: a Forum on Women’s Health, was hosted recently by State Senator Velmanette Montgomery at Polytechnic University.

This forum brought women working in women’s health before a listening panel of elected officials and directors of Federal, State, and City agencies ready to hear about the varied health concerns and needs of New York women from diverse cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. “This is the beginning of a very important process,” said Senator Montgomery. “Usually we just have to complain to each other, but today we're talking with people who can actually do something about the problems you speak of.”

Brooklyn Deputy Borough President Yvonne Graham said that the forum had particular meaning for her because she trained as a nurse in Jamaica and worked in public health here in the USA. “We are spending a lot of money on healthcare - the healthcare budget is second only to the defense budget - but we are not achieving the outcomes that we hope,” she declared. “We are dealing with a system that is broken.”

With Leslie Wolfe, President of the Center for Women Policy Studies in Washington, DC, as moderator, eight women took to the podium to speak of what their organizations are dealing with. There were several recurring subjects, such as the difficulties told of by Carine Jocelyn, Executive Director of Diaspora Community Services, in getting immigrants, especially the undocumented, to overcome their fear of seeking services. Several women, including Virginia Tong, Vice President for Cultural Competence at Lutheran HealthCare, said that all too often health professionals are proficient in their knowledge of medicine but quite insufficient when it comes to understanding their patients’ cultural views and practices which have a crucial effect on their health and treatment.

Another issue that was brought up repeatedly was, as Emira Habiby Browne, Executive Director of CIANA put it, “People only go to doctors in an emergency. They really don't understand prevention.” She also spoke about the particular challenges of working in very traditional Arab communities where the women are so dependent on the men that they can't make decisions for themselves, including about their health.

Methods of surmounting these hurdles were also discussed. Dr. Tosan Oruwariye, Director of School-Based Health Centers at Morris Heights Health Center, explained that they use school-based services for outreach to immigrant families who are afraid to seek services. Catherine Abate, Executive Director of Community HealthCare Network, also told about some of the ways they try to reach out specifically to the undocumented population.

Dr. Monica Sweeney, Vice President of Medical Affairs at Bedford Stuyvesant Family Health Center, spoke about education levels and health outcome. “People will ask, ‘What has education to do with health?’” she said. “For one thing, even Alzheimer's doesn't progress as fast with people who are educated.” And she explained that a dollar spent on healthcare buys $.50 worth of healthcare, while a dollar spent on education buys $2 worth of health.

When it was time for the listening panel to comment on what they’d heard, Wilma Waithe, Director for Minority Health at the NYS Department of Health, noted that she was hearing women describe the need for interactive, comprehensive, continuous healthcare, and the need to treat women as whole persons. City Council Member Darlene Mealy stated that she had listened very seriously to what was said and she was ready for action: “Enough of us talking and meeting - let's do it!”

City Council Member Letitia James pointed out that the healthcare needs of women is inextricably tied to the health of the nation, and Carolyn Hannan, Director of the United Nations Division for the Advancement of Women, emphasized, “We will not bring about change unless we engage men and boys and bring them along too.”

Kings County District Attorney Charles Hynes, who was affectionately referred to as the forum’s “non-woman,” spoke movingly about his own mother being a victim of domestic violence and his childhood experience working their way through a nightmare system to try to get help. He said how glad he is that Brooklyn’s Family Justice Center now exists “where a woman and her children can go and immediately get help, and the healing can begin.” With services in 150 languages, clients can walk in and obtain assistance, including counseling, meeting with a prosecutor, shelter and housing help, and legal information – all while their children play safely in the next room. And, as Tracy Webber, Director of Grants for the Mayor’s Office to Combat Domestic Violence, added, all with complete confidentiality and without any questions about one’s immigration status.

Brenda Smalls, Assistant Deputy Director of NYS Office of Children and Family Services, said she had taken extensive notes and would make sure that offices across the State heard about what had been said.



To subscribe to or advertise in New York’s leading Pan African weekly investigative newspaper, please call (212) 481-7745 or send a note to

“Speaking Truth To Empower.”

Also Check Out...

Officers Who Murdered Breonna
George Floyd Told Police “I Can’t
Black Latinos Now Confronting
South Africa Considering Basic
NYC Schools Will Offer Mix of In-
CEO: Wall Street Discounted Me