Concerns on health care told at forum

Tuesday night in Glenn Auditorium, private citizens turned health activists armed with pen and pad, manila folders full of research and data awaited their turn to march down the aisle and present their three-minute case to representatives of the Missouri Foundation for Health.

This was a public forum, held on the Southeast Missouri State University campus, aimed at giving everyone a chance to voice individual concerns about health care in the region.

When Kay Azuma's time came, she walked to the podium armed only with a story. She paid no attention to the receding time on the clock before her. This wasn't going to take three minutes.

"I'm here because I just got a call from an elderly lady," Azuma said to the panel of doctors seated at the front of the auditorium. "She told me that she suffers from abscessing gums. She needs five teeth pulled. She was sent a list of area dentists who were supposed to accept Medicaid patients. She has been refused at each one."

As community developer for the Community Caring Council, Azuma has dealt with many cases like this one. She and others from similar organizations came to illustrate the need for more accessible dental care, health care, and mental health care in hopes that the Missouri Foundation for Health -- endowed with $1.1 billion to distribute by way of grants to community organizations with health-care oriented goals -- might take notice.

In addition to dental health, a recurring concern among speakers was substance abuse as an underlying problem that could be the source for other health issues, such as teen pregnancy and child abuse. Dr. Steven Pu, the foundation's director, said that worry isn't unique to this area.

"At every forum I've been to, there have been at least two or three people who've brought drug and alcohol abuse up as a concern," Pu explained. "We are very much aware of the problem. We hear what you are saying, and we're heading in that direction."

Coming to listen

Not all the 50-plus in attendance were there to talk. Many came to listen and learn.

Billie Holshouser, fidgeting with her Palm Pilot between speakers, came to get updated on the state of the foundation's affairs. A consumer educator for the Apple Project, Holshouser is well-acquainted with the foundation.

The Apple Project is a grant-funded, nonprofit agency that helps older adults with paperwork. It currently is using a three-year grant from the foundation to fund a program promoting awareness of prescription assistance programs among people 60 and older.

Behind her, Betty King and Daniel and Rebecca Skaggs sat patiently listening to speaker after speaker come to the podium. The main reason they were there, however, was to attend the grant-writing workshop held before the forum started.

They plan to start the Southeast Community Relief Center, which will act as a food bank and provide emergency services and assistance to those who've recently suffered a disaster. It will be based in the Park Hills, Mo., area.

"We'll be helping people who are basically starting their lives over with nothing," Rebecca Skaggs said. The trio came to Cape Girardeau to see if the foundation can help them.

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