Hello everyone! This is Beth again with the Michigan Primary Care Association Community Health Corps serving as an AmeriCorps health advocate for SIREN/Eaton Shelter in Charlotte. Sometimes in my position at the shelter, it is difficult to help people when circumstances prevent them from qualifying for Medicaid and/or Medicare. Other than the health department, two local hospitals, and an urgent care facility – all places that will treat people regardless of their ability to pay – Eaton County lacks a FQHC, or federally-qualified health center. Currently there are over 10,000 county residents that do not have any health insurance. Being able to refer adults and children for primary medical care at a local clinic would greatly increase the availability of health care for many residents in Eaton County; therefore I always try to keep up on any opportunities I have to learn about additional services in the county that will in turn benefit those whom I advocate for at the shelter.
In April, I read in the local paper about a health summit to be held to increase health care access to the residents of Eaton County. I called our local health department and left a message, requesting an invitation to attend the summit. I waited a week and didn’t hear anything, so I proceeded to call back and leave another message. The day before the summit I received a call that said I could attend. I didn’t think much about who would be attending, and found it quite intimidating the next morning when arriving to find my assigned table. I suddenly found myself sitting with the director of the Department of Human Services for Eaton County, the director of our local health department, the CEO of our local hospital, an Eaton County Commissioner, and a probate judge. Others around the room included U.S. Congressman Mark Schauer and representatives from U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow’s office.
It was, to say the least, very overwhelming on that first day and I can say I felt somewhat out of place to be among all the community leaders; however, representing the county’s only homeless and domestic violence shelter and Michigan’s AmeriCorps, I did feel a sense of pride, but I certainly did quite a lot of listening, and not much talking!
After hearing perspectives of community leaders on what values they held related to community health and access to care, the room broke into small work groups to identify strategies with the most potential to improve and expand access to healthcare in Eaton County. Toward the end of the morning, it was realized that everyone in the room wanted to work on creating a culture of health and wellness in the county, as well as continue to identify solutions to increase access for our most vulnerable citizens.
The goal of the day was to create two workgroups to focus on the two initiatives set forth from the summit. I now am a part of the workgroup that is focusing on increasing access and we meet monthly. Currently we are working on developing the grant to apply for an FQHC status from the federal government for a new health center. Already in existence is the Barry Eaton Health Plan, which has two health plans covering approximately 1,400 members of the community. These plans are not medical insurance, but assistance programs to provide access to basic medical care for low-income, uninsured adults at the Health Connections Clinic inside of the Eaton County Health Department. The goal of our workgroup is to turn the clinic into an FQHC, which will be able to provide care for many others who currently do not receive any primary medical care.
I am very happy to have made those first two phone calls, as being involved in the process has opened many doors for me. On July 1, I participated in a health care forum with healthcare professionals from the area hosted by Congressman Mark Schauer. Sitting on the panel, I was able to share my perspective on the needs and solutions to our country’s health care crisis. It was amazing to realize how far I had come from that first meeting in April. Because of other outreach events I attended, speaking in front of others became much easier for me, and I owe this all to my experience with AmeriCorps! I am also learning invaluable professional skills I know will contribute to my success in future endeavors.
It is at times very difficult to put yourself out there and take risks, such as I did attending that first health care summit; however, I have realized no matter how uncomfortable it may be, the benefits of the experience will come back to you tenfold!