A Race to Healthcare

As I stand there trying to act out “X-Ray” to one of my clients, I realize that most of my job has to do with understanding. My service site for the year is the Nationalities Service Center (NSC), a non-profit organization that works to resettle refugees coming in from all over the world. Specifically, I serve on the health team, a small piece of the NSC pie that’s in charge of teaching refugees how to navigate the American healthcare system. A feat of which, even as a US college graduate, I still have trouble with. But with the refugees it’s no easy tutorial or gentle walkthrough. It’s a race.

From the time they touch down in the US, the clock has begun to tick. In the first month they are vaccinated, tested, and retested for diseases I’ve only heard about in Biology lectures. They go from specialist to specialist in hopes of being properly diagnosed and treated for the many chronic, infectious, and mental health conditions that they’ve probably contracted after spending up to 20 years in refugee camps. By month four we can all but hope they are healthy enough to work and find a job, because by that time NSC can no longer afford to pay the rent on their apartments. All this leads up to the inevitable eight-month finish line, where they are no longer eligible for Refugee Health Insurance and must purchase their own. Oh, and if that’s not enough of a challenge, from day one most of the refugees cannot read, write, or speak any English.

So clearly, understanding is extremely important in my position. I find myself waiting for the universal “Ah-Ha” moment on their faces after pantomiming telephone numbers. I constantly have to remind myself not to fall for that horrible logic that simply repeating the same word louder will definitely make it more understandable. Then they look at you and say what I’m almost sure is “I have no idea what this tall skinny kid is saying but he sure looks funny.”  Whoever said that communication was mostly nonverbal has never tried to explain deductibles without using words. But then it comes – the point of understanding. I’ve been sitting there for 5 minutes trying to explain, “come back next Tuesday” and dreading having to call back the phone line interpreter, when all of a sudden they nod their head and say “Tuesday!” I try to fight the urge to grab hands and jump in circles chanting Tuesday.

It’s getting easier though, and after the first few days I began finding words that most of my clients know.  Now, I am starting to realize that certain groups excel or have trouble at understanding certain concepts. It’s actually quite ironic in that the more I understand the people and the cultures I am helping, the more it helps me become understood. I imagine this is what National Health Corps is really all about. By performing our service, we are not only becoming more aware of the problems faced by so many people in the US, but we are also building a foundation in which we can actually address and solve these problems more effectively in our futures.

Name
: Jarett Beaudoin
Position: Refugee Health Associate, Nationalities Service Center
Degree: Global Politics and Economics, University of Tennessee
Why did you join the Health Corps: To gain an understanding of the different social and health-related problems in the US.
Favorite thing about Philly: The Museums!

Even monkeys deserve our care!

Even monkeys deserve our care!

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Enjoying Service in Philadelphia

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ~Gandhi

This quotation has so much more meaning to me now that I have started my year of service in the Philadelphia Health Corps.  I’ve learned so much about myself already and it’s still just the beginning!

So far it’s been a wonderful experience exploring a new city and learning a new job.  My host site is the Abbottsford Falls Family Practice and Counseling Network.  I work in the Dental office as a Dental Care Coordinator.  I’m serving as the liaison between primary care and dental care while assisting in bridging the gap between the two and teaching patients that oral health care is connected to overall health and wellness.  After all, your mouth is the gateway to the rest of your body!

Everyone at my host site is very friendly and extremely grateful that I’m here to help serve them and their patients.  It’s nice to feel so appreciated and welcomed by the staff.  I’ve met so many people that are willing to support me in my learning process and want to share with me things they have learned from years of working in the healthcare field.  I couldn’t be more grateful for this.

We hold classes and support groups here at the health center and seeing patients come together and support each other has been my favorite part about working here so far.  I’ve spoken about the importance of dental care at the Parenting classes held here at the health center to both new mothers and prenatal patients.  I’ve also spoken about the connections between diabetes and periodontitis (advanced gum disease) at the weekly Diabetes support group meetings.  I find this work very rewarding and fulfilling because I can directly see how this information is helping our patients.  By engaging with them and answering their questions I feel like I am truly helping them.  A patient who had not seen a dentist in a number of years booked an appointment after listening to me teach about the importance of dental care.  Now that is helping someone in a direct way and it made me feel great!  I hope to explore more Health Education opportunities throughout the year and continue to serve in this way.

Aside from my individual work at my host site, I’m really enjoying getting to know the other members of the Corps.  They all inspire me to keep growing, giving back, and serving.  Having that support system in place has been wonderful.  It’s nice to have other members to share your experiences with, be it challenges or rewards.

I’m a member of the Service Committee and my fellow members and I have been working hard to find outside opportunities to serve the wonderful city of Philadelphia!  We are scheduled to serve at the Habitat for Humanity ReStore project in December and I’m really looking forward to it.  I also volunteered at the Career Wardrobe Boutique, a recycled clothing store, and had a fantastic experience with the staff there.  They do some amazing work to empower women in the workforce and I found it very inspiring.

Overall my experience as a member of the 2012-13 Philadelphia Health Corps has been a wonderful learning experience and unique growing opportunity.  I’m excited for what the rest of the year will bring!

Name: Melanie Wall
Position: Dental Care Coordinator
Degree: Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Northeastern University, Boston, MA
Why did you join the Health Corps: To help and serve people who need it.
Favorite thing about Philly: The view of the Ben Franklin Bridge at night.

Melanie(left) and fellow service cohort Erin in a joyous embrace on the Delaware River Waterfront after a gratifyingly successful day saving the world as AmeriCorps members.

A New Year!

It’s a brand new year for the Philadelphia Health Corps, and with it, a time of fresh beginnings and possibilities. For the 27 of us new corps members, our mission in the upcoming months is to tackle the health care challenges of Philadelphia’s underserved communities. Along the way, we hope to make friendships, create some lasting memories, and find our paths into the future. So join us on our journey as we discover the heart of Philadelphia, with its history and culture, its people and stories, and all the little things in between.

At Love Park