“HealthyPregnancies” are Healthy Futures

By Liz Hovel and Erin McGlynn, Community HealthCorps® Members, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers (SSCHC), Milwaukee

Each year, over 200,000 women in the United States develop gestational diabetes mellitus (GDM) during their pregnancy. Racial and ethnic disparities are rampant in GDM; Hispanic/Latino Americans, African Americans, and American Indians are especially at risk. As AmeriCorps members serving with Community HealthCorps in Chronic Care (Liz) and Women’s Wellness (Erin), we noticed the prevalence of GDM in our culturally diverse Milwaukee community and were motivated to do something about it.

Gestational diabetes programming at SSCHC, was started five years ago by Myriam Olivera, and is currently coordinated by Carmen Cosme. According to Carmen, GDM offerings have historically been “very educational but missing the fun part of movement.” As fitness enthusiasts, we saw the perfect opportunity to get involved! Capitalizing on our collective experiences in exercise and nutrition, we dedicated ourselves to the creation of “HealthyPregnancies,” our innovative and multi-dimensional prenatal program that we believe will contribute to healthy futures for moms and babies in Milwaukee’s south side.

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Liz & Erin posing with “HealthyPregnancy” Participants!

We knew that it would be a cooperative effort to develop a class that best helps our patients prevent and manage GDM. Carmen is an excellent mentor, and in true community health center style, a variety of SSCHC staff members from midwives to nutritionists have been our best resources throughout this process. As Community HealthCorps® teammates, we also find ourselves in a unique position to collaborate across departments. Our interdisciplinary partnership combines the diabetes expertise of Chronic Care staff and a strong connection with the patients most at risk for GDM via Women’s Wellness.

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Erin & Liz teaching yoga to “HealthyPregnancy” participants.

During the program development, we considered the social determinants of health for our patient base in order to accommodate the increasingly diverse population served by SSCHC. For example, our class is bilingual so that Spanish and English speakers can equally benefit, free so that financial barriers are eliminated for all patients, and offered in two locations complete with child enrichment (thanks to Community HealthCorps teammate Bethany Canales) so that patients without transportation or child care can attend. During our class, we also debunk myths about “eating for two” and “avoiding all exercise” during pregnancy, which are common due to lack of education.

On October 11, “HealthyPregnancies/EmbarazosSaludables” was born! The program was “brought to life by our Community HealthCorps® Members in collaboration with myself,” Carmen says. Since then, we have been offering hour-long classes during which we lead our patients in dynamic stretching, low-impact dance aerobics, and prenatal yoga. The class also features themed nutrition education and the occasional healthy snack.

Community HealthCorps Member, Bethany, engages a "HealthyPregnancy" participant.

SSCHC Diabetes Educator, Carmen Cosme, engaging with a “HealthyPregnancy” participant.

Our regular participants love having such a comprehensive class made comfortable for pregnant women to meet and support one another; several of them have already delivered healthy, full term babies! In turn, we have been empowered by the opportunity to make a positive difference in their lives and will be stronger health care providers in the future because of it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in AmeriCorps, community healthcorps, gestational diabetes mellitus, national service, pregnancy, service, Sixteenth Street Community Health Centers, Social Determinants of Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reflections on the Community HealthCorps Service Experience: Finding Perspective

By Reina Amiling, Community HealthCorps® Member, Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County (CCALAC)

‘So how can I get into your program?’
‘I haven’t volunteered in forever. I want to start again.’
‘I’m going to help at the Food Bank. Wanna come?’

These snippets of conversations I had with friends are allowing me to view my year of service through a different lens. As Community HealthCorps® Members, we are so caught up in the daily routine of our service positions, that we forget how privileged we are to be in this program in the first place.

Community HealthCorps® positions are competitive; statistics have shown that the amount of people applying for AmeriCorps has increased substantially in the past couple years, and the amount of AmeriCorps positions has not changed to accommodate the influx (click here to read more on the rising number of AmeriCorps applicants versus available positions). Furthermore, we have been given the opportunity to positively impact underserved communities through avenues that may not have been open to us upon graduating college. It is very difficult for new graduates to find positions in non-profits that allow one to be immersed in community mobilization, program management, and capacity building projects (click here to read more about national service and youth unemployment). Community HealthCorps® slipped us into these positions, offering a unique glimpse into the world of community health centers.

Not only are we part of a well-respected organization, we made a pledge to serve the underserved. The nature of our positions allows us to work directly with community organizations and the community itself, in order to improve its overall health. Thus, we experience the gratification and happiness of helping a community every week (for some, more than that) through some event or type of one-on-one interaction. This direct service that many working adults lack in their day jobs, often prompting them to look for opportunities to do such activities on the weekends, is our full-time commitment.

Is our work a challenge? Yes, very much so. Does it sometimes require us to work evenings and weekends? Yup, more often than not. Is living in solidarity with those who are in the lower-income bracket easier said than done? Of course.

But have we gained skills that will help us be successful in the non-profit sector, community organizations, and the field of health and medicine in general? Definitely (click here to read more about volunteering as a pathway to employment). Are we leaving Community HealthCorps® with a greater understanding of different communities and socioeconomic statuses? Absolutely. And do we have unforgettable experiences that have transformed us to be empathetic and informed members of society? Without a doubt.

Entering the last quarter of my Community HealthCorps® service, I need to remember the uniqueness of this experience and take advantage of all the opportunities it has to offer.

Posted in AmeriCorps, Community Clinic Association of Los Angeles County, Community Health Centers, community healthcorps, Corporation for National and Community Service, National Association of Community Health Centers, national service, service, volunteer | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Responding to Increasing Demands for Reporting Impact and Program Effectiveness

By Jason Patnosh, National Director, Community HealthCorps® & Associate Vice President, National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) & Anastasia Romanova, Program Specialist, NACHC-Community HealthCorps®

As government and private resources are becoming more competitive to support AmeriCorps programs, the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) has developed a roadmap to strengthen the impact reporting for its Community HealthCorps® program.

Over the course of the last two weeks, the national Community HealthCorps® team had the pleasure of hosting some very special guests at NACHC’s Bethesda, MD office. Community HealthCorps® invited its 36 Program Sites to participate in small group training sessions on implementing new approaches for measuring impact of the program. Attendees were divided into three groups focusing on the program’s target service areas: increasing access to care, improving financial health knowledge for individuals, and supporting older adults and persons with disabilities to live independently. Below are snapshots of each group’s experience:

photo2-PMblogIndependent Living – Through Community HealthCorps®, AmeriCorps members serve a diverse range of populations with limited access to basic healthcare services, including older adults and individuals with disabilities. Although individuals within these two populations have been engaged by members throughout many of the program’s 20 years of existence, the direct impact has not been reported in the past. Attendees within this group focused on strategies to engage with older adults and individuals with disabilities, such as how to work with these populations in a culturally competent way and the importance of group interactions in fostering a sense of social support and control. Program Coordinators were able to take the training back to their AmeriCorps members to effectively work with these populations and measure feelings of empowerment and connectedness within the health care system.

Access to Care – In the past, Community HealthCorps® has measured the program’s impact in increasing an individual’s access to health care by reporting both the total number of individuals enrolled into health insurance, health services, or benefits programs and the number utilizing these services to access primary and preventive care as a direct result of interacting with a Community HealthCorps® Member. photo1-PMblogTaking this to a new level, the program is moving to report on the confidence levels exhibited by individuals in their ability to utilize primary and preventive care after being enrolled into health insurance, health services, or benefits programs. The participants of this group discussed how their Members could achieve this confidence in their interactions throughout their day-to-day service. The group was able to conceptualize potential approaches and dialogues their Members could use and how they would best collect the data in a conversational manner so as to not overwhelm the individuals served.

Financial Literacy – The majority of individuals served by community health centers live well below the national poverty level and their lack of financial resources is typically a key barrier in their ability to access healthcare. Community HealthCorps® Members provide a variety of services to low-income individuals focusing on eliminating those barriers, such as assistance with applying for and enrolling in prescription assistance programs to afford the medication they are prescribed or sliding fee scales to pay for health center services based on their income rather than a set fee. When providing these services, Members discuss various health related costs and health-related financial factors. Attendees for this focus area session discussed various health-related financial topics that Members can teach and how to best capture an increase in an individual’s knowledge on better addressing their health needs while limiting their financial hardships.

photo3-PMblogA positive experience was reported by both the national and Program Site staff engaged in these sessions. The small group discussions encouraged feedback and transparency, allowing all participants to provide insight on relevant Member service activities, potential challenges, and innovative solutions in using proposed measurement tools at the health center level and strategies for training AmeriCorps members on capturing their impact in the three focus areas.

Over the upcoming months, Community HealthCorps®’ national team, Program Site staff, and AmeriCorps members will work together in making the shift towards this advanced measurement approach, collecting the data and demonstrating a connection between Member service activities and improved health experienced by the individuals they serve. Although the change is substantial and will take adjustments, the potential of demonstrating such a high level of impact made directly by the program’s AmeriCorps members in service is well worth the effort.

 

Posted in access to care, AmeriCorps, Community Health Centers, community healthcorps, financial-health literacy, independent living, National Association of Community Health Centers, national service, performance measurement | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment