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What health reform means for the people of Illinois

A blog by IllinoisHealthMatters.org

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Missing Link: Putting Health into Your Hands

The Affordable Care Act brought about the expansion of Erie Family Health Center, the only health clinic in Evanston and Skokie. Long after its opening in Evanston, Erie Family Health Center was under capacity and wanted to reach more people. In contrast, the Evanston and Skokie Health Departments conducted community surveys in 2013 and found that one of the most prevalent health issues identified by the community was access to healthcare.

Something needed to change in the way that people accessed the healthcare system and the way they were connected to information and care. Inequalities in the healthcare system limit the types of care and information for people of different backgrounds. Many people do not know how to access quality health information or where to go for their health-related needs.

A Community Collaboration Promoting Health

Students at Northwestern University are partnering with public institutions, community organizations and university departments to create student-run health resource centers at the Evanston and Skokie libraries. Called the Health Information Resource Centers Utilizing Libraries in Evanston and Skokie (HIRCULES) Health Hub, the initiative will work to promote health literacy, preventative care, awareness of community resources and understanding of the existing healthcare system. The program is powerful and unique; it empowers people to take ownership through guidance, linkage and education.

The HIRCULES Health Hub will provide the Evanston and Skokie community with a trusted central resource where they can be connected to educational materials to improve health literacy. The HIRCULES Health Hub desks will be staffed by Northwestern students trained as medical librarians at Evanston and Skokie Public Libraries. Students will gather resources and search for materials for library patrons. HIRCULES will also include a website with relevant health resources and databases that contain searchable information including frequently asked questions, health services available in Evanston and Skokie and a calendar of health-related community events.

Identifying Challenges, Creating Solutions

The HIRCULES Health Hub will feature monthly themes with digestible and accessible information. Developing these monthly themes has taught staff a great deal about the community and led to new solutions. For example, last summer staff created a Back to School theme and wanted to inform parents where they could obtain school supplies if they could not afford to buy them from a store. The organization that had previously provided this service had recently closed, and with two months until the start of the new school year, no one else was planning to provide supplies to any Evanston school districts. HIRCULES staff reached out to community organizations, Parent Teacher Associations and school district boards to find a point person who ran a program to fill the need for school supplies for low-income students. Because of HIRCULES, real needs of the community were identified and addressed.

Improving Knowledge and Health

Normalizing routine, preventative care is another important aspect of the project. HIRCULES staff will promote preventative care through education of how to utilize Federally Qualified Health Centers and medical homes. Most people are not aware of the implications of the Affordable Care Act, which promotes preventative care. This reduces costs and improves health outcomes over time. Emphasis on preventative care education is imperative in empowering people to utilize pre-acute and ambulatory points of access to health systems. The partnership between HIRCULES and Erie Family Health Center helps establish a healthy lifestyle through regular, preventative primary care checkups and referrals for more complex health services.

Information Hub for the Community

The final objective of HIRCULES is to guide people to health-related resources, simplifying their search for health and wellness and improving services in the existing, complex healthcare system. All available, health-related resources in the community are being compiled into a virtual database accessible online and through visiting the HIRCULES Health Hub. For example, if an expecting mother wants to know where she can access prenatal and postnatal care, HIRCULES staff can direct them to Family Focus. If a parent needs assistance enrolling his or her family in health insurance, they will be connected with a local health insurance navigator and resources from Get Covered Illinois.

These major health issues will take time to address and overcome. Programs like HIRCULES are a vital contribution to making positive changes and improving the health of Evanston and Skokie citizens.

Brittany Zelch & Emery Weinstein

Brittany and Emery are undergraduate students attending Northwestern University Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences who study global health. They helped found and remain involved in the HIRCULES Health Hub.

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