As a daughter of immigrants, I see a lot of myself and my childhood in the patients that I serve every day. As soon as I could speak fluent English, I was navigating and advocating for my parents in the healthcare field and beyond. Whether that was enrolling our family into health insurance, doing taxes, or reading every letter we received from the government about our benefits. Serving as a patient advocate for the Prescription Assistance Program(s) at the Philadelphia Department of Public Health-Health Center #3 has both been eye-opening and rewarding at the same time.
While the population I serve are primarily residents of West Philadelphia, I do get the chance to interact with patients that have just recently immigrated to Philadelphia. Learning about resources like the Philadelphia Department of Public Health-Health Centers, they come with hopes of being connected to healthcare and social services, where we try to help regardless of insurance status or documentation. In one specific circumstance, I remember meeting a family of four. The older son was translating/helping on behalf of his very sick father as he was the only one who could speak fluent English. His father had recently immigrated here after having sent all of his kids to America from Albania many, many years ago. It was his time to finally come to America, but for a rather grim reason. His son explained that his father was very sick, and was not receiving the kind of care that he believed would receive in America. After being able to talk more about their past life and hopes they had here in America, I found out that the patient, his father, was undocumented. This made my heart sink because the prescription assistance program that would provide the medication for him required a Social Security Number. However, I was able to connect them with a coupon that only shaved off a couple dollars for the prescription. What are patients supposed to do when there isn’t a generic medication available to such expensive medications for those who are undocumented?
It is very hard dealing with situations where patients can’t get access to healthcare because of the different barriers still present in America today. Even though I know I am merely a stepping stone in this massive realm of healthcare, I can’t help but take it personally when I am not able to connect those to these kinds of services because of other outside factors. In this situation, I was at least able to provide them with at least a coupon, even though it only took off a few dollars on this prescription he needed. With all of this, I am grateful that Philadelphia has these health centers, and grateful for the people that work endlessly to provide those who come with the healthcare all people deserve. With other services, I was able to connect this family to the Philadelphia Legal Assistance regarding their high medical bills, and to the benefits counselor to see if we could get his father on any kind of benefit/insurance. Even though the son had lived here for pretty much all his life, he was not aware of all these services just around the corner from him. He told me that he would tell others in his community that were struggling with medical and non-medical issues.
As a future provider and policy maker, I take into heart these kinds of experiences I have. These kinds of experiences continually expose me to the kind of issues and barriers patients face when in a new country. I hope one day to be able to make it easier for all to gain access to healthcare, and continually find ways to improve!
[Image description: A photo of the front of Health Center 3 located in West Philadelphia]