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  • Bruce Baker

CHEER Finds Limited Healthcare Capacity in County Program for Uninsured in Long Branch

Latino Residents in the Long Branch area without health insurance report difficulty getting medical appointments through the Montgomery Cares program, a program that provides health services to uninsured adults in Montgomery County. Language barriers were frequently cited as a problem for navigating appointments. However, another major complaint is that the safety net clinics that provide this service are not taking new patients regularly, have no waiting lists, and do not answer their phones. It is estimated that there is about a 50 percent chance that patients will be seen unless a patient has a life threatening condition. Concerns raised by these findings will be addressed at the next meeting of the Long Branch Health Enterprise Zone on December 11, 2014 from 3 to 5 pm in the Columbia Room of Wilkinson Hall (Room 210 7600 Flower Avenue) at Washington Adventist University.

These findings are based on CHEER’s recent health outreach programs. Six community health outreach workers were recruited in December 2014 from the communities in which they live and work. They were trained, and participated in ACA outreach activities under a grant from the Healthcare Initiative Foundation. Outreach continued after the ACA enrollment open season ended in March 2014 to connect people to other health and wellness resources, such as Medicaid, Montgomery Cares, and other resources. Outreach specialists contacted people at farmers markets, grocery stores, the library, emergency food distribution sites, and social service centers, such as the TESS Center. Most of the contacts were with Spanish speaking residents. From May through September the outreach specialists linked 637 people in Long Branch to a resource. Most of these were for health care. CHEER health outreach specialists attempted to follow up with each contact to find out successes or barriers to utilizing the resources referred.

Ability to pay was also reported as a barrier to health care in general. Large numbers of Long Branch residents don’t qualify for insurance under ACA or for Medicaid. Many who do qualify for the ACA qualified health plans do not sign up because the benefits do not appear to be worth the cost. In another finding some patients have reported that they have been told by financial staff that they need to pay up front and resolve old bills before surgery or hospitalization.

Although problems were found with health care access, Outreach specialists received feedback on many good health resources. They were told that the County’s Care for Kids program works well. It was also reported that the Gilchrist Center offers good English classes and the“Work First” program is very helpful. At the TESS Center the food stamp application process is friendly and easy, and the TESS Center also offers good English classes and a yoga class. The financial assistance application process at Holy Cross and Washington Adventist Hospitals Emergency Departments are reported to be friendly, and Maternity Care and post partum care at the hospitals and clinics is good and accessible.

Thanks to Health Outreach Specialists Dolores Badillo, Karla Castro, Sonia Guandanique, Vanesa Pinto, Vineda Myers, and Loretta Long and to CHEER staff who oversaw operations and compiled these findings, Francisco Orantes and Rosemary McCloskey.

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