Empowering Seniors Past Barriers to Access

Posted on: June 28, 2022Philadelphia
A sign having on a concrete wall that says "Health Annex at Mill Creek"
Sign at the Health Annex's entrance
(temporarily relocated at Mill Creek)

As a hopeful future healthcare professional from Allentown, PA, I was drawn to service with National Health Corps (NHC) as an opportunity to better understand barriers to accessing healthcare while serving local communities. Prior to serving as a NHC member, I had worked in clinical settings as a research associate and emergency medical technician (EMT). Though these experiences expanded my understanding of clinical medicine, I recognized and desired more knowledge of social challenges impacting health. By serving as a senior patient advocate at the Family Practice and Counseling Network: Health Annex, I have learned how to navigate and address health access barriers to empower patients.

By communicating with patients aged 55 and older in-person and over the phone, I learned to address their needs by sharing a variety of community resources with them including health insurance, transportation, home health care, food assistance, and housing lists. Obtaining affordable health insurance led to patients obtaining long-awaited specialty care and/or medical treatments previously barred to them due to high cost. Enrolling in transportation assistance programs and/or home health care improved patients' access to medical providers. Obtaining food assistance through food pantries and/or meal delivery services reduced the financial burden of healthcare for patients while improving nutrition as well. 

Amal sitting at a table covered in a yellow cloth advertising the Health Annex. On the table are bags, water bottles, and other giveaways for community members.
Tabling at an AFAHO health fair for
insurance & social services outreach

Though I was first amazed by the wealth of community services in Philadelphia, I quickly recognized obstacles preventing patients from benefiting from such services. Structural inequities were clear and prevalent as low-income patients, many of them long-time Philadelphia residents, could not afford rent and were often limited to applying for subsidized housing waitlists with multi-year wait times. Patients ineligible for affordable insurance due to immigration status and/or enrollment period restrictions remained unable to easily access healthcare. Patients with limited technological literacy and/or digital access struggled to independently complete program applications and/or maintain communication with providers as well. 

Though seeing patients face such obstacles often led me to feel frustrated on patients’ behalf, I appreciated the ability to work with patients face-to-face to address their needs and meet them where they were at. As I practiced trauma-informed care, I grew to recognize the impact of trauma on individuals’ willingness and/or ability to utilize services. As a result, I often followed up with patients to ensure they felt equipped and empowered to access services following our conversations. My experiences communicating with patients as a senior patient advocate have helped me not only better understand health access barriers, but also how to better advocate for and empower patients to work towards surpassing these barriers.

About the Author:

Amal Saeed

Pronouns: she/her                                                                                      

Host Site: Family Practice and Counseling Network – Health Annex

Position Title: Senior Patient Advocate

Where are you from? Allentown, PA