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Thursday, Jan. 17, 2019 12:07 am

Health care starts at home

 

The Pillsbury Mills neighborhood is next on the list for health care professionals who are attempting to affect positive change in Springfield, block by block.

The U.S. Census Bureau estimated that 6.8 percent of Illinois residents were uninsured in 2017, less than the national average of 8.7 percent. Despite this, there are still areas where large disparities exist.

In 2015, Memorial Medical Center and HSHS St. John’s Hospital partnered together to form what is now called the Access to Health Collaborative, each contributing $250,000 to improve the quality of life for those living in Sangamon County. The collaboration is administered by SIU Center for Family Medicine and began as a three-year pilot program which initially targeted the Enos Park neighborhood.

Based on the collaboration’s results, the program will continue in Enos Park but also expand into the Pillsbury Mills neighborhood, another low-income area just east of Enos Park that faces its own set of challenges.

A Springfield resident who lives in the 62711 ZIP Code has an 11-year life expectancy advantage over someone in a lower-income area of town, according to data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The life expectancy disparity between people who live a few miles from each other has to do with what is known as the social determinants of health. Numerous studies have shown that where people live and work has a tremendous impact on health, not just a person’s genetic makeup or physical condition.

Tracey Smith, SIU Center for Family Medicine director of population health and community outreach and director of the health care collaborative, said some people may be uninsured because of literacy issues, but even those who can read well enough to complete insurance paperwork may not understand how to select a doctor who can meet their needs.

Community health workers who have been hired with the funding provided by Memorial and St. John’s assist residents in the targeted communities by helping them navigate the complexities of the health care system or by providing transportation to and from doctors’ appointments, among other services.

“Enos has been a catalyst for change in other systems, whether it be for our hospital system or community systems,” Smith said.

The outreach to Pillsbury Mills residents is in the early stages, but Smith said a community worker is already operating as a liaison in the neighborhood.

Efforts to improve the quality of life in Pillsbury Mills will take a different form than the approach taken in Enos Park because of a lack of community anchors to serve as a starting point.

“There is not a foundational group the Pillsbury Mills neighborhood connects with, informal or formal,” Smith said. “There isn’t a school or a center in the community. Homeownership is less, so that can lead to fewer individuals interested in changes in the community. There’s a lack of any kind of business or even few churches, no service organizations. It’s mostly rental homes. There’s no permanency.”

Smith said the differences between existing neighborhood anchors found in Pillsbury and Enos is an example of why finding a resolution is always community-specific.

“Some of the interventions may seem different, but they aren’t, because it has to do with the philosophy of trust,” Smith said.

Interventions needed to assist residents can only occur once trust has been established,

Smith said. Trust, along with open dialogue, is the key to assessing what obstacles residents face. Success in Enos Park went far beyond assisting residents with insurance sign-ups. Community-based programs initiated during the pilot program’s first year helped over 450 Enos Park residents enjoy free activities like a bike club and summer enrichment programs for youth.

The difference between the communities isn’t necessarily a bad thing, Smith said, because each obstacle presented allows residents the opportunity to take ownership of the project, instilling a sense of pride in their community.

“I want them to be able to stand up and say, ‘Look at our park we developed,’ or ‘Look at our street,’” Smith said. “This is ours.”  

Lindsey Salvatelli is an editorial intern with Illinois Times as part of the Public Affairs Reporting master’s degree program at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact her at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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