From Seed to Tree

Note: All names have been changed to protect privacy.

A series of light, yet purposeful knocks on my door brought me out of my morning slumber promptly at 8:00 am. “Good morning, Jenny!” A cheerful Sandy poked her head in my office with a family friend, Mrs. Dinh. “We have a question about insurance.” Sandy, a local resident and long-time patient at Health Center 6, ushered Mrs. Dinh into my office and into a chair. Sandy made herself at home just as she did the first time she came into my office with Mr. Dinh six months ago, when I renewed the Dinh family’s Marketplace coverage early in the Open Enrollment period for 2017. The Dinhs were the first patients I assisted with Marketplace enrollment as a newly fledged Certified Application Counselor, thanks to Sandy’s referral. They, among many individuals at Health Center 6 (HC 6), qualified for the Marketplace for low-cost health coverage but not for Medicaid because they had not yet been permanent residents for five years.

Sandy pulled out Mr. and Mrs. Dinh’s green cards from her large Mary Poppins carpet bag and carefully handed them to me. “Can we try to apply for Medicaid for them? They are going to have had their green cards for five years in May.” She laid out the Dinh’s paystubs on my desk, along with a copy of the federal poverty level guideline. “According to the numbers, Mr. and Mrs. Dinh should also qualify for Medicaid based on their income. I just think they should take advantage of free public healthcare if they qualify.”

Small in height and elderly, yet charismatic, Sandy was the unofficial spokesperson for several English-deficient Vietnamese patients at HC 6. While I used to think Health Center 6 attracted families solely due to its location and integrative care model, I learned quickly that local residents like Sandy add a powerful component to the health center’s community cohesion. She also epitomized the impact of NHC Philly’s public health legacy. Having had worked closely as a liaison between family friends and the NHC Insurance Specialist before me, Sandy was very familiar with the public benefits process.

As if on cue, another shy Vietnamese woman stepped into my office. Sandy firmly but  gently ushered her in next to Mrs. Dinh. “This is Luna, another family friend. She is also in a similar situation with her green card. I brought every supporting document with me, so let’s apply today! She is very ill with Lupus and needs affordable medicine right away.”

When Mrs. Dinh and Luna stepped outside to use the restroom, a flash of sadness quickly appeared then disappeared across Sandy’s upbeat demeanor. “It’s important that we at least start the application today.” She quietly expressed the difficulty in motivating her friends to initiate the health insurance process because of its seemingly long and complicated timeline. Most often, they are the ones who need it the most.

“This is why we’re a team,” I assured Sandy. They say blood is thicker than water. But I find truly inspiring the fact that Sandy is not the only advocate of equal access to healthcare for patients of the community. It is a common recurrence to see friends and families refer each other to HC 6 for the integrative services it offers to local residents. I came into NHC knowing I was going to make a difference, but little did I truly realize the ripple effect produced by empowering individuals with education and access…until now.

Sandy grinned. “You know, Luna has an uninsured boyfriend too.”

This blog post was written by NHC Philadelphia member Jenny Park.
Jenny serves as an Insurance Specialist at Philadelphia Department of Public Health Ambulatory Health Services - Health Center 6.