Where Health Meets Wealth

Entering Family Practice and Counseling Network’s Abbottsford Falls site, your destination could be Primary Care, Dental, Physical Rehab, Behavioral Health, the Gym, or Admin. But just as you enter, my office lies to your right, the ambiguous “Fishbowl.” Separate from the majority of the office, both patients and staff stop to peer through three of its four sides to see who is inside, donate clothing, or ask for a small meal. This transparent space escapes classification within the clinic, for it houses two worlds: that of the clinic’s benefits counselors and that of the Abbottsford Homes community. Yet more so than any lecture or discussion I’ve partaken in, my daily service at the intersection of these two worlds has developed my idea of what good health can mean.

Abbottsford Falls Family Clinic once service wraps up. Photo by Author. 

In a program dedicated to engendering good health through service, NHC’s diverse member discussions often merge upon this broad question: how should we define good health? Our Learning Committee recently offered a possible definition using a concept called the seven dimensions of health, which include physical, social, spiritual, political, economic, emotional, and intellectual components. And while I have learned more about physical and emotional health through my service, this service term has also granted me a better look at financial health.

Good financial health is not just rich versus poor; instead, it is a measure of how in control of your money you perceive yourself to be. From my perspective as a Health & Benefits Advocate, submitting a Medicaid or food stamp application is a quick fix compared to the time and planning required to better one’s financial health. Just ask the residents of the Fishbowl. There’s a 65 year old community health worker who has been putting savings away for years. There’s the 26 year old driver who is completing the mortgage process on his first home. There’s also the 55 year old woman-in-recovery who has only just felt at peace financially. For me, their stories made a clear connection between good emotional well-being and one’s sense of financial security and have lead to me to question why clinics like ours do not provide for this dimension of health too.

Working with clinical social workers in our behavioral health wing, I have begun to expand my “health and benefits” advocacy position to promote aspects of good financial well-being. To the providers, crippling financial situations can limit a client’s ability to plan for the future he or she wants. This can add to our clients’ anxiety such that mental health issues often linger even after therapy. In the case of one family who is surviving on their disability and pension checks, simple forgetfulness and mismanagement of older bills resulted in debts totaling more than $1,500. The accumulated debt and interest drained so much from their finances that the family was having trouble affording food, let alone the peace of mind necessary to manage their diabetes and mental health issues. Weekly meetings to talk about and prioritize how they were spending their money brought this issue to the forefront and helped them address it directly. Four months later, I am happy to say they are debt-free!

At the intersection of the Abbottsford Falls clinic and community, issues like financial health come to light. I am grateful to have such a community from which to learn and to be part of a clinic that supports interventions that traditionally lie outside the scope of healthcare.

This blog post was written by NHC Philadelphia member Vaib Penukonda.
Vaib serves as a Health & Benefits Advocate at Family Practive & Counseling Network: Abbottsford Falls.