D’Andra Odom became serious about policy change when her mother died of cancer in 2002. It became clear then that not everyone has the same access to affordable medicine, food and general wellness based on their socio-economic status, she says. “The thing that I discovered was my mom was able to get all the care she needed because we had the financial resources to get it for her, but everyone did not have that same access,” Odom says.
That drove Odom as a young woman to work for a local congressman to help educate herself on the best way she could make a difference through policy changes. “Regardless of what decisions we make in the health care industry, our lawmakers pretty much are the gears that turn those decisions,” Odom says. “I wanted to understand it from that standpoint of how does their mind work? What language do they use?”
Odom, a graduate of Grambling State University and Southern University, soon began her career in health care equity and health care policy. She worked for the Louisiana State Department of Health for 10 years as a policy analyst and minority outreach director. She recently began a job at Aetna Better Health of Louisiana MCO as its health equity director.
And, for the past two years, Odom, 42, has volunteered as a grant manager and board member for the One BReath Project, a nonprofit organization that facilitates a culture of wellness in local communities. Odom has aided in securing multiple grant opportunities related to health care and health equity with emphasis on preventable disease, health care and food access.
“I fully believe that individuals in our lower socio-economic or more economically vulnerable areas should have access to the same services that we have in the more affluent areas of Baton Rouge,” Odom says. That could mean finding transportation for a person to access information and resources at a local library or advocating for an emergency room built in a part of the city where there currently is none, she says.
Odom assists One BReath with finding funding opportunities, deciding whether these opportunities are worth pursuing, and making sure the funds are distributed to the community. As a community impact director board member, Odom also connects One BReath with other likeminded community organizations.
One memory involving One BReath that stands out to Odom is when some senior citizens reached out to the nonprofit because they didn’t meet the requirements for Meals on Wheels. Odom and her husband, who own a restaurant, fed those seniors themselves. After a few months, One BReath assisted with the cost of providing these healthy meals until the seniors could be helped by Meals on Wheels.
“The most joyous part of that was when a nurse for one of the senior citizens contacted us and told us that person had not had labs as great as they had been since they started getting the meals from us,” Odom says.
It all goes back to Odom’s early experience with her mother, who surely would be proud of her daughter today. “I just decided,” Odom says, “that no one should have to choose between feeding themselves and their children and receiving health care.”