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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

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Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Neighborhood Stories: The Importance of Community-Based Health Organizations

Today, Illinois Health Matters launched the third release in their ongoing multimedia series, Neighborhood Stories. This installment reveals through video and investigative journalism the importance of community based organizations, such as neighborhood health centers and grassroots health coalitions. Such organizations provide a variety of comprehensive services to people in underserved communities, such as the South and West Sides of Chicago, who often do not have health insurance or access to quality, affordable care.
In “Community-Based Organizations Play a Critical Role in Reform,” author Jeffrey Steele finds community organizations act as a vital link between the federal level ACA, the state-level policies that result from the act, and the people who will benefit from the health care reform. Steele describes various ways that community organizations in Chicago are helping to implement the ACA. For example, there is an individual in every community-based organization that Celine Woznica, program director for the Asian Health Coalition in Chicago, calls a “mother hen.” They are usually trusted and respected members of community that people come to and ask questions. Inquiries may range from where to go for a flu shot to how to get heating assistance to when to go for citizenship classes. “These staff are the very people who have to be well versed on the Affordable Care Act, and how to help people take advantage of it -- from preventive care to the health exchange,” Woznica says.

Community organizations are integral to distributing accurate information about the health reform process. At
Erie Neighborhood House, a west side social service organization and community service agency, they are focusing on more “in person” workshops while other groups may utilize ethnic media and webinars. As Jim Duffett, Executive Director of Campaign for Better Health Care, sums up, “The more people who take ownership at the local level, the stronger we’ll all be in winning comprehensive reform.”

The video, “Wellness on the West Side,” profiles the story of Eliazar Mejia, a woman diagnosed and treated for diabetes at Lawndale Christian Health Center (LCHC). LCHC is a shining example of “coordinated care” – where they provide a multitude of different types of care and programs all in one place. Many people who do not have insurance, such as the 38% of LCHC’s patients, end up letting a health problem develop and worsen until it sends them to the emergency room. LCHC fills the gap between no care and the emergency room for its 60,000 patients. Bruce Miller, the CEO of LCHC, sums up the organization’s overall commitment to its patients: “Our goal as a community-based organization is to provide care for everybody who needs care. Whether they have insurance, whether they don’t have insurance, we’ve never cared. So, as we think about the future, what the impact could be of health care reform, it’s our hope certainly, that many of our uninsured patients will have…better access to care, and will use that care more frequently.”

“Wellness on the West Side” is just one in the Neighborhood Stories series, presented by Illinois Heath Matters. Previous videos profile individuals and families, small businesses, and the importance of a consumer-focused health policy in Illinois. All videos and articles are featured in the “Neighborhood Stories" section of the Illinois Health Matters website, along with articles that share how community organizations, including Health & Disability Advocates, local Chambers of Commerce and others are educating and informing underserved groups about their health care coverage options under the new law. The multimedia series is part of the Local Reporting Initiative, supported in part by The Chicago Community Trust.


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