Health Care Act

YWCA head: ACA is crucial to women’s health, racial justice

YWCA of Central Carolinas will host national CEO Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron at its annual luncheon March 11.
YWCA of Central Carolinas will host national CEO Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron at its annual luncheon March 11.

I admit to being surprised when a local YWCA spokesman said the group’s national CEO had the Affordable Care Act high on her agenda. For that matter, I was surprised to learn that the CEO is a medical doctor.

I had slipped into what Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron says is a common misconception: That the YWCA is “just swimming pools and fitness centers.” Well, I’d have added summer camps to the list ... but until recently I hadn’t realized that the agency has a history of engagement with the civil rights movement, or that its stated mission is “eliminating racism (and) empowering women.”

Richardson-Heron, who will be in Charlotte for Wednesday’s YWCA Central Carolinas annual luncheon, did her medical training at New York City’s Bellevue Hospital. She says she saw countless people who couldn’t afford medical care arrive in late stages of illness, when treatment was costly and often futile.

Her career took her through leadership roles with United Cerebral Palsy and the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation before taking the top job with the YWCA in 2012. She says the group’s support of the Affordable Care Act fits the mission: “Women and communities of color are more likely to be uninsured and underinsured.”

At more than 1,300 locations across the country, staff help women enroll for subsidized health insurance and find high-quality medical care. (Fighting domestic violence is another YWCA project, and Richardson-Heron says the ACA has helped victims get health coverage.)

Meanwhile, YWCA advocates are pushing for Medicaid expansion in states like the Carolinas, which have declined federal money to extend the government coverage to impoverished adults. People who can’t get subsidies or Medicaid don’t disappear from the health care system, Richardson-Heron notes.

Instead, she says, they become like the patients she saw at Bellevue, showing up desperate at public hospitals and racking up big bills they can’t pay, for treatment that often comes too late.

Helms: 704-358-5033;

Twitter: @anndosshelms. This blog is done in collaboration with Kaiser Health News, an editorially independent program of the Kaiser Family Foundation.