Vulnerable population is a group or groups that are more likely to develop health-related problems, have more difficulty accessing health care to address those health problems, and are more likely to experience a poor outcome or shorter life span because of those health conditions. There are a number of characteristics, traits, or circumstances that enhance the potential for poor health. Healthy People 2020 (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services [USDHHS], 2010) has identified certain groups as more vulnerable to health risks, including the poor, the homeless, the disabled, the severely mentally ill, the very young, and the very old (Maurer & Smith, 2013). The most important factor associated with health status is economic status. Poverty drastically increases a person’s or group’s vulnerability to poor health status.
Not all people who are at risk for poor health would be considered vulnerable. To be considered vulnerable, a person or group generally has aggravating factors that place them at greater risk for ongoing poor health status than other at-risk persons. For example, a middle-aged obese man with a sedentary lifestyle and hypertension would be considered at risk for cardiac problems. If that man also had an income below the poverty level, no health insurance, and stressors related to living conditions, he would be more likely to be vulnerable to ongoing poor health status than a man with similar risk factors but with an adequate income and health insurance (Maurer & Smith, 2013).
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Children, pregnant women, elderly people, malnourished people, and people who are ill or immunocompromised, are particularly vulnerable. Poverty – and its common consequences such as malnutrition, homelessness, poor housing and destitution – is a major contributor to vulnerability (WHO, 2017). Vulnerability may arise from individual, community, or larger population challenges and requires different types of policy interventions—from social and economic development of neighborhoods and communities, and educational and income policies, to individual medical interventions (Health Affairs).
Children and the elderly must have someone to advocate for them and as I nurse I am honored to be able to stand in the gap to assist this population of my community. For both groups due to the lack of knowledge when it comes to medical termination, procedures, and making sense of the medical language, we as nurses need to make sure that the families of these individual have the full picture of what is going on in terms of their health care. Break down information in laymen’s terms to where individuals can understand so that they can make informed decisions about their health care.
I would advocate for more affordable health care and easier access to health care for children and the elderly to help reduce the co-morbidity and mortality rates. Because it has shown that early access to quality medical care can help reduce an individual’s susceptibility illness, which will in turn reduce the mortality rate. For example, children one of our more vulnerable populations, providing early vaccination and screening for children can reduce and or prevent certain illnesses.
Health Affairs. Vulnerable People, Groups, And Populations: Societal View. (October 18, 2017). http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/26/5/1220.full
Maurer, F.A. & Smith, C.M. (2013). Community/public health nursing practice (5th ed.). St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Saunders.
World Health Organization. (October 18, 2017). http://www.who.int/environmental_health_emergencies/vulnerable_groups/en/