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  • Bruce Baker

CHEER outreach specialists are extending healthcare access

Healthcare is more available now than at anytime in the past. The Affordable Care Act and Montgomery County’s Safety net clinics make primary health care available at unprecedented levels. Two County programs, Montgomery Cares and Care for Kids programs, provide subsidies to primary health care providers who treat low income uninsured residents. Nevertheless, many continue to have difficulty accessing primary care when they need it. CHEER’s community outreach specialists (COS’s) have been seeking out those who have the most difficulty accessing health care in the Latino and African immigrant communities in Long Branch and Takoma Park. Obamacare does not cover many immigrants and in 2014, the outreach specialists found that only about 50% of those referred to a Montgomery Care’s clinic were able to get an appointment.

CHEER Outreach specialists have been working to close the gaps and overcome the barriers that prevent people from getting the care they need. In the fall of 2015, with the support of the Healthcare Initiative Foundation the outreach team conducted apilot primary care outreach and referral program. During the pilot the outreach specialists focused on 37 individuals who needed to see a doctor, but had no insurance. They were able to make appointments for everyone. Although not all the clients were able to make their appointments. The outreach specialists made substantial progress in identifying and addressing additional barriers to utilizing health care and improving health.

“I’m feeling so much better” is what one of our clients reported a few weeks after her appointment. She was initially prescribed a medicine in the local ER that gave her insomnia. Now with a different medicine, she is feeling much better. Another client was referred for surgery after her appointment for a growth on her hand. A third client was pregnant without prenatal care and reported feeling dizzy. The client was seen for care the next day. By the end of the 4 month pilot 65% of those who went to a primary care appointment reported that their health had improved.

In the coming months the CHEER’s seven outreach specialists (Vanesa Pinto, Karla Castro, Dolores Badillo, Maribel Juarez, Sonia Reyes, Fitsum Teshome, and Betelhem Abebe) will take the lessons learned from the pilot as they extend primary health care to 200 more people and improving health for 70% of those who participate. CHEER outreach specialists recently helped 169 households apply for health care coverage through the Affordable Care Act. and will help previously uninsured people navigate a complex and unfamiliar health care system. CHEER outreach specialists will also attend health screenings conducted by Washington Adventist Hospital to help patients who need medical attention to get the care they need to improve their health.

How else can CHEER help connect neighbors to healthcare and information in your neighborhood?

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