Let’s celebrate a great Wacoan by increasing health equity

By Deneece Ferrales

Waco lost an iconic figure in March 2020 with the death of Henrietta Napier, and our community is now honoring her legacy by continuing to promote health equity. The Napier Health Expo will be July 16, but it is important to remember this groundbreaking healthcare worker for whom the event is named.

Napier, the first Black registered nurse in Waco, served her community for more than 40 years through the McLennan County Public Health District.

Henrietta Napier at her pinning ceremony at Meharry Medical College in 1951

She obtained her nursing degree from Meharry Medical College in Nashville in 1951. She came back to Waco to practice nursing. Initially, she was hired to do the work of an orderly because it was difficult for a Black woman to be employed as a nurse. However, she soon found a home at the health district.

When Napier began her work at the health district segregation was still prevalent in Waco. Her job was to vaccinate the Black children so they had the appropriate vaccines for attending school. There are many older African American Wacoans who still remember receiving their first shots from Napier.

This true local hero is also remembered for her dedication to her church, St. Luke’s AME. Her husband became the first Black police officer in Waco.

When the committee started planning the Napier Health Expo, we hoped to honor Ms. Napier in a way befitting her accomplishments but also to help bridge the health equity gap that still exists in our community. Too many people are unable to access consistent healthcare. This is often due to the inability to pay for care because of little or no health insurance or because of high copays that prohibit accessing needed tests and procedures.

Barriers to equitable healthcare may also include language, inability to find transportation to clinic visits, inability to schedule appointments during clinic operating hours because of work or childcare constraints, or having difficulty making and keeping appointments because other social determinants of health are not being met. As a result, over one-quarter of Waco residents do not have an identified primary care provider.

Events such as the Napier Expo and other health screenings assist in bridging the health equity gap. Healthcare providers, health insurance providers, public health, and nonprofits attend to inform the public about services that can help ease or alleviate some of the issues that impede healthcare access or help make healthcare more equitable.

The Napier Expo will be 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday, July 16, at Carver/Indian Springs Middle School gym and cafeteria. Put it on your calendar now and help honor Henrietta Napier while getting valuable health information, screenings, and vaccinations and having quite a bit of fun.

Healthcare providers and nonprofits can participate in this event by contacting Tre Baldwin at marshall@prosperwaco.org or Deneece Ferrales at deneece@prosperwaco.org.

Deneece Ferrales, Ph.D., is director of health initiatives with Prosper Waco.