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COMMUNITY HEALTH

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ON COMMON GROUND

"Health services… can change the cycle of poverty and ill health."— H. Jack Geiger, 2005

Based on an example from South Africa, the Delta Health Center was launched in Mound Bayou, Mississippi in 1967. As well as medical care, staff focused on the social problems that undermined health in the region, such as hunger and unemployment. To ensure that members of the community could participate in decisions about their health and the future of the area, local people served on the board and some joined the clinic staff. Beginning with this clinic and another in Boston, Massachusetts, the network of community health centers has today expanded nationwide.

Listen to President Lyndon B. Johnson's State of the Union Address, 1964
Courtesy Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Archive

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Read President Lyndon B. Johnson's State of the Union Address, 1964

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Economic Opportunity Act in the White House Rose Garden as crowd looks on President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Economic Opportunity Act, 1964
Courtesy Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library and Archive
Pen used by President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Economic Opportunity Act Pen used by President Lyndon B. Johnson to sign the Economic Opportunity Act, 1964
Courtesy Lyndon Baines Johnson Library and Museum, Austin, Texas
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Economic Opportunity Act, a cornerstone of his "War on Poverty." Physician Jack Geiger received $1.2 million under the Act to establish two community health centers. His colleague Dr. Count D. Gibson, Jr. became the head of a city-based project at Columbia Point, in Boston, Massachusetts, and Dr. Geiger ran the Delta Health Center, a rural project at Mound Bayou in northern Bolivar County, Mississippi.
Audio Tour Audio Tour Stop #5 Transcript
Dr. H. Jack Geiger in cotton field Dr. H. Jack Geiger in the cotton fields of Mound Bayou, Mississippi, 1968
Courtesy Daniel Bernstein
In 1964, during Freedom Summer, Dr. H. Jack Geiger traveled to Mississippi as a field coordinator for the Medical Committee for Human Rights. He saw that the poverty of many black residents of the state had a dramatic impact on their health. Geiger had spent several months in Pholela, South Africa during medical school, learning about community health care, and he decided to develop a similar project for the United States.
Dr. John Hatch and Melvin Grant inspect green bean crop
Dr. John W. Hatch and Melvin Grant, a member of the farm cooperative, 1968
Courtesy Daniel Bernstein
Dr. John Hatch and Melvin Grant inspect a crop of green beans Dr. John W. Hatch and Melvin Grant, a member of the farm cooperative, inspecting a crop of green beans, 1968
Courtesy Daniel Bernstein
Jack Geiger and John Hatch at the Delta Health Center construction site Dr. H. Jack Geiger and Dr. John W. Hatch during construction on the Delta Health Center, 1968
Courtesy Daniel Bernstein
Dr. John W. Hatch, who joined the health center at the outset of the project before the building was even completed, led a program to establish ten local community health associations. These groups talked with local residents to evaluate their health care needs, nominated people for work at the center, and planned satellite centers to extend the reach of services.
Will Finch presents a check at a meeting of the advisory council for the health center Will Finch, president of the farm cooperative, holds a donation check that will pay for the purchase of three hundred acres of land, 1968
Courtesy Daniel Bernstein
Because malnutrition was a major cause of poor health in the area, health center staff encouraged families to grow vegetables. So many people wanted to participate that the community decided to create a farm cooperative, where local workers could grow their own food. Instead of picking cotton for farm owners in the area, cooperative members grew tons of potatoes and beans to share.

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CHALLENGING INEQUALITY:

Dr. Jack Geiger remembers the early years of the Delta Health Center.

Transcript
Audio Tour Audio Tour Stop #6 Transcript
Two men dig hole for a water pump Digging a water pump, 1968
Courtesy Daniel Bernstein
Most of the residents of Mound Bayou did not have easy access to clean water and lived with poor sanitation, putting them at risk of diarrheal diseases. Children were especially vulnerable. To solve the problem, health center staff dug wells and installed water pumps.
Present-day Delta Health Center Delta Health Center, Mound Bayou, Mississippi, 2006
Courtesy Delta Health Center, Inc.
The work begun at the Delta Health Center continues today and has inspired a national network of community health centers. Every day, despite budget constraints, thousands of patients who would not otherwise be able to afford medical care receive the treatment they need.