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community health

What Does It Take to Improve Societal Health?

By Kenya V Beard

May 4, 2017


Chances are you have or you know someone who has asthma, hypertension or diabetes. These are serious illnesses that raise morbidity and mortality rates. Medicine alone is not enough to manage these conditions. To start, individuals should eat healthy foods, avoid cigarette smoke, have access to jobs, health care, and safe communities.


But what if you live in a community where there is no grocery store, the air quality is poor, or the unemployment and poverty rates are so high, health is no longer a priority? These conditions are just a few of the realities that impact health for so many individuals. For example, the Morrisania section of the Bronx was once called a “food desert”; a place where grocery stores did not exist and access to fresh fruits and vegetables was inadequate. So exactly how could one eat healthier? In New York, there are some midtown districts where the air quality is at unacceptable levels. What affect does that have on individuals who have asthma and work in those areas? Lastly, there is a direct relationship between poverty and health. Individuals in poor households tend to have worse health outcomes for reasons beyond their control.


How do we improve the health of our society when we know that a prescription for medication does not translate to healthier food on the table, better air quality or employment? What are the lessons learned from our past that can be used to inform our future?


In the book, Out in the Rural: A Mississippi Health Center and Its War on Poverty, Dr. Thomas J. Ward takes us back to the early 1960’s to explore the triumphs and challenges faced by Dr. H. Jack Geiger and others who established the first rural community health center in the United States, the Tufts-Delta Health Center. The Center was established during a time when many African Americans were denied access to health care. When health care was accessible, they had to use the back door, wait in separate rooms or were expected to tell the doctor what their problem was because some doctors refused to touch them. In addition, since emergency care required immediate payment, some died on the hospital steps. Some communities in Mississippi faced astonishing health care challenges that led to the highest infant and maternal mortality rates in the country. But that was all about to change.


Tune in to HealthCetera to hear the conversation with Diana Mason, Kenya Beard, and the author of Out in the Rural: A Mississippi Health Center and Its War on Poverty, Dr. Thomas J. Ward. Find out how the Tufts-Delta Health Center addressed the social determinants of health, provided comprehensive health care, and improved the health of a community. Indeed, the lessons learned 50 years ago could still be used today. So tune in on Thursday, May 11th at 1:00 PM to WBAI, 99.5 FM in NYC or streaming at 

Kenya V Beard

Luna’s Story: How one health center cares for the transgender community

By Liz Seegert

March 16, 2017


The American Health Care Act, the proposed Republican health plan, would deal a major blow to Medicaid funding for the states. The Congressional Budget Office projects that if it passes, Medicaid cuts will total about $800 billion over the next decade, and leave 24 million more people uninsured—including many in the LGBT community.


Under the ACA, health plans cannot refuse coverage based on pre-existing conditions, such as HIV, substance abuse, or a transgender medical history. There are non-discrimination protections based on sex, which  include gender identity and sex stereotypes, in any health program receiving federal funds (including Medicaid and in state marketplaces). This also includes sexual orientation.


The Center for American Progress found that among lower income LGBT individuals (making between $15,000 and $22,000 annually), the uninsured rate dropped 18 points since the ACA’s Medicaid expansion.


Luna Hernandez is among those benefitting from enhanced Medicaid coverage. She is a transgender woman who receives care through Community Health Center, Inc. in Middletown, Conn. Thanks to the Center’s Project ECHO program, an education program for safety-net providers, Luna’s care team is knows more about prevalent health issues among the transgender community and understands how to best interact with their patients.


On this week’s HealthCetera, Luna discusses her struggles and triumphs, her focus on staying healthy and the importance of the care CHC provides. I also speak with Wanda Montalvo, PhD, an advance practice nurse at the Weitzman Institute the policy arm of CHC that oversees Project ECHO, about what the real-world ramifications of Medicaid funding cuts mean to vulnerable populations.


This segment airs on HealthCetera on Thursday, March 16 at 1:00 PM to 2:00 PM on WBAI 99.5 FM, New York, and is streamed live at


You can also listen to the interview here, or on on iTunes.


Liz Seegert
Liz Seegert is a health care journalist and directs the media fellows program at the Center. She serves as topic editor on aging for the Association of Healthcare Journalists, writes for a variety of print and online publications and coproduces HealthCetera Radio on WBAI-FM. She tweets @lseegert. 

Community health workers help Kentuckians deal with the multitude of obstacles between them and better health

By Melissa Patrick

January 3, 2017

This story was reported by CHMP Media Fellow Melissa Patrick and first appeared on the Kentucky Health News website.


BEATTYVILLE, Ky. – Fannie Callahan, a 62-year-old woman from Lee County, worked at the local nursing home for 38 years before retiring, has insurance, and pays her bills on time. But a six-day hospital stay in 2013 left her thousands of dollars in debt and wondering how to pay it and also cover her basic needs – until a co-worker told her about Kentucky Homeplace.


Samantha Bowman, CHW

Samantha Bowman, a community health worker at Homeplace, said she was able to call Fannie’s bill collectors and get the debts written off or reduced, then helped her create a payment plan within her budget.


“I was in distress and really didn’t know which way to turn,” Callahan said. “I don’t know what I would do without Kentucky Homeplace.”


For more than 20 years, Kentucky Homeplace has used community health workers to get thousands of Kentuckians the services they need. Most of its clients are either at or near the poverty level, but the program is free to anyone in the 30 Eastern Kentucky counties it serves.


CHWs aren’t medically trained, but come from the communities they serve and are trained patient advocates who help coordinate their clients’ care, provide access to medical, social and environmental services, and deliver education on prevention and disease self- management.


Homeplace is part of the University of Kentucky‘s Center of Excellence in Rural Health. CERH Director Fran Feltner said preventive screening rates are higher for Homeplace clients than state and national averages “because the CHWs really work with them to make sure they get screened.”


The mammogram rate is 89 percent, far above the state’s 58 percent and the nation’s 60 percent.


Bowman said the greatest needs for her clients are medical, and she often helps them get medical supplies.

Counties served by Kentucky Homeplace are in blue


“We see those working-poor individuals or even middle-income individuals that come in here that
have tried other avenues without success,” she said. “They are working 40, 50, 60 hours a week, but the income is not enough for them to be able to afford to access the care they need, whether it’s glasses, dentures, hearing aides, medications, or even diabetic shoes — they can’t afford to get them.”


Bowman said she also helps her clients become better health consumers, noting that many leave their doctor’s office without a real understanding of their diagnosis or what they need to do about it.


“The majority of them can’t work through the medical system, it’s too difficult. They don’t understand, most of the time, even the medications they take,” Bowman said.


“So Homeplace makes a huge difference in looking at the person as a whole and starting from that beginning screening to know what the person really needs. Is it that they need food? Is it that they need shelter? And then when you get those goals met, then you can talk to them about preventive care,” Feltner said. “The success is that holistic approach that we take to take care of the people.”


CHW and similar programs vary across the state

The Montgomery County Health Department’s CHW program, called “The Bridge” (or “El Puente” for Latino clients) is clinic-based and focuses on chronic-disease management.

Gina Brien, director of the agency’s Community Department, said surveys of clients show that they are more able to manage their at-risk or chronic conditions, have better health status and have reduced emergency-room visits and overnight hospital stays.


The Barren River District Health Department uses CHWs and registered nurses in a “self-management program” and only accepts clients who have heart failure, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.


Cara Castleberry, manager of the Community Health Management Program, said one of its program’s many successes in the past year has been an average drop of 2.15 percent in their patients’ A1C, a test for blood sugar.


The Mountain Comprehensive Health Corp. in Whitesburg uses registered nurses as quality care managers to coordinate care and improve patients’ health behaviors. The program requires patients to have two chronic health conditions and is covered by Medicaid. Care managers provide many of the same services as CHWs, but are also able to manage their patients’ health conditions.


“We’ve seen A1Cs go down. We’ve seen patients who never come in for preventive exams who have come in for preventives. I had a patient who hadn’t had a pap[smear for cervical cancer] in 15 years . . . and she was just too scared to talk to somebody about the fact that she was afraid that she couldn’t step up on that bed,” said manager Chalena Williams.


Most CHW programs in Kentucky are rural, but the Louisville Urban League recently launched a CHW program, “It Starts with Me,” in four neighborhoods in west Louisville, which have some of the greatest health disparities in the city.


“What we are finding with many of our clients is that there is a gap between what a medical provider — or really any type of organization that they are interfacing with — is asking them to do and then what they are understanding,” said Lyndon Pryor, the league’s health program manager.


Pryor said providers think they are being straightforward about recommending medications, but fail to realize patients don’t know how to get them through their insurance, or don’t have transportation to get to the pharmacy, or that work conflicts keep them from complying with the instructions.


“CHWs are able to sift through all of the different nuances of a person’s life and figure out how to get to the best solution possible for the individual,” Pryor said.


The future of CHWs in Kentucky

CHWs are becoming an integral part of a health system that is increasingly focused on outcomes and the social determinants of health.


Kentucky’s CHW Workgroup, led by the state Department for Public Health, and the state’s Community Health Worker Association are working on a certification process for CHWs, in hopes of increasing funding options, which would allow the program to expand.


Insurance rarely covers CHW services. Kentucky’s CHW programs are funded by various sources, including the state’s general fund, grants and local taxes.


Brien, a member of the workgroup, said it started meeting in 2012 and made progress, but last year’s change in administrations has required them to educate the new health officials. Nationally, a formal task force is working on a framework for sustainable, effective CHW programs.


The Bureau of Labor Statistics says Kentucky had between 390 and 560 CHWs in May 2015, the latest data available. Nationally, there were about 48,000.


Feltner said Kentucky needs more CHW programs because there are areas all over the state with great health disparities that would benefit from them: “If you don’t remove those barriers and those social determinants of health, you have a sick population.”



This article was produced as part of the Health Care Workforce Media Fellowship, run by the Center for Health, Media & Policy, New York, N.Y. The fellowship is supported by a grant from the Johnson & Johnson Foundation. Kentucky Health News is an independent news service of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues, based in the School of Journalism and Media at the University of Kentucky, with support from the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky.

Melissa Patrick