Category Archives: Health

Connecting veterans with health care, services

While many of us assume veterans have access to health care through the Veterans Administration, it’s often not the case.

“Most people assume the VA is health insurance,” Joe Franzese of Illinois Warriors to Warriors tells The Gate. “It’s not. You might have access to some health services, depending on how, when and where you served.”  Even for veterans who are eligible, care is not necessarily available, timely, or free.

An analysis by Health and Disability Advocates shows that many veterans are uninsured, with rates as high as 30 percent in communities like Austin on the West Side.   Overall the group estimates that 40,000 Illinois veterans are uninsured.

About a third of the state’s veterans have incomes low enough to qualify for Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, according to an AP report on the HDA study.  The state legislature approved an expansion of Medicaid under the ACA in May.

HDA runs the Illinois Warrior to Warrior program, in which veteran volunteers help other veterans connect with health services and get help with issues ranging from employment to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Military Sexual Trauma.

Franzese is “like my personal angel,” says one veteran, who tells the Gate of his struggles to get services for physical and emotional issues that led to several suicide attempts.  Now he’s in a veterans support group, and Franzese is helping him look for work.

“It’s a complete 360,” he says. “I’m happy now. My home life is better. It gets me out of my own bubble, just picking up the pieces.”


For more:  Listen to Franzese and HDA executive director Barbara Otto discuss veterans’ health care on WBEZ’s Afternoon Shift

Lead poisoning persists in Chicago

A recent study of Chicago children found that in three-fourths of CPS schools, the average blood lead levels of students was high enough to be considered poisoned, Megan Contrell reports at the Chicago Reader.

Lead poisoning can cause a range of health problems including neurological damage and learning disabilities.  Looking at data from CPS, the study showed that even lower levels of lead poisoning can affect test scores and other measures of achievement.

One expert calls it “the low-hanging fruit of education reform.”

But efforts to combat lead poisoning have lagged as funding for prevention has been cut. The Centers for Disease Control’s budget for lead poisoning prevention was reduced by 90 percent this year.

In Englewood, which has the highest lead poisoning rates in the nation, the community group Imagine Englewood If works with parents and landlords to increase awareness.  The group is also pushing for restoration of state funding to test schoolchildren.

The Metropolitan Tenants Organization is preparing an ordinance requiring testing of all apartments for lead levels (currently they are tested if a child is found to be poisoned).  But the group has not yet found an alderman to sponsor the ordinance.

“Lead poisoning is one of the few causes of social and learning problems that we know how to solve,” said Anita Weinberg, director of Lead Safe Housing Initiatives at Loyola University.  “We can resolve this problem within a generation, but it’s not a priority for the city.”

Latinas with diabetes

Diagnosed with diabetes as a child, Christina Rodriguez regularly sees six different doctors in order to keep tabs on this multi-organ disease.

Writing at Projecto Latina, the editorial director of Extra reports that Latinas have a much higher chance of developing diabetes – and of dying from it.

She says one challenge for Latinas is that they’ve been raised to “help everyone but yourself.”

More on AIDS at 30

Betty Smith was a respiratory therapist who was tired of seeing AIDS patients treated as pariahs when she founded the South Side Help Center in 1987.

She started by reaching out to African American ministers. When many were “hesitant,” she started going to their wives.

Today the South Side Health Center offers HIV testing, education and outreach programs along with myriad community services like youth mentoring and substance abuse counseling.  The group is also dedicated to fostering other, younger community groups.

The group’s story is part of a panaroma of history and reflection available in Windy City Times’ AIDS At 30 series, including a number of articles looking at HIV/AIDS and the black community.

James Scott of the Youth Pride Center writes that HIV is “wreaking seemingly uncontrollable havoc on the African American community,” particularly among young black men who have sex with men (who may not identify as gay or bisexual).

Cleo Manago, founder of the Black Men’s Xchange, recalls being heckled at a mid-1980s conference when he called for a multidimensional approach to attract diverse African Americans to AIDS services.

“The black community still has HIV because America has never had an efficient and black culturally responsive HIV prevention model, policy, campaign, leadership or agenda — in 30 years,” he writes.

WCT interviews West Side native (longtime LA resident) Phill Wilson, who’s emerged as one of the nation’s most outspoken AIDS activists since founding the Black AIDS Institute in 1999; he talks about his own history and activism, the challenge of reaching out to the black community about AIDS, and his assessment of the strengths of weaknesses of President Obama on the issue (he serves on Obama’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS).  “I believe that the president has had some hits and misses,” he says.

On health reform, many remain uninformed

While health care providers prepare for national health care reform – or worry about their capacity to meet an upsurge in demand – many Chicago residents who will benefit have little idea about changes that are coming.

In the final installment of the Neighborhood Stories series at Illinois Health Matters, Judith Graham talks about health care reform with South and West Side residents, many with serious health issues who have had trouble accessing care.  Many are uniformed, and some are skeptical, she reports.

There’s a “gaping chasm” between policymakers implementing reform and low-income residents, and it demands stepped-up outreach and education, Graham writes.

Many don’t know about the expansion of Medicaid – income standards will be raised, and adults without dependent children will become eligible, giving an additional 500,000 to 800,000 Illinois residents coverage.

Meanwhile, with budget pressures on Medicaid growing, private clinics turning away Medicaid patients, and expected funding for an expansion of community health clinics yet to materialize, providers worry about meeting increased demand.

Another challenge: the Cook County Health Service faces a “struggle to redefine itself” as the number of uninsured people declines, and those who are left are increasingly undocumented residents ineligible for Medicaid.

An additional 300,000 Illinois residents are expected to purchase insurance on a new insurance exchange under the individual mandate. In many cases they’ll be eligible for government subsidies for coverage.

On the South and West Sides, meanwhile, hospitals and clinics are banding together to provide “medical homes” and more comprehensive care  for Medicaid patients and others, a development that health reform will continue to encourage.

Illinois Health Matters is a one-stop online resource for information on health care reform, managed by Health and Disability Advocates in partnership with a number of community organizations.   Consumers can subscribe to the Illinois Health Matters newsletter at the site, or follow the project on Facebook or Twitter.

Latina Teens and Suicide

Rates of suicide attempts among young Latinas are startlingly higher than other youth in the U.S., according to a new report from Latina Voices and Mujeres Latinas en Accion (Part 1 and Part 2).

Added to the usual stresses of adolescence are additional issues over ethnic identity and acculturation.  And for immigrant families, parents have often had very different experiences growing up than their children, according to the report.

Some of these issues will be explored at at panel discussion tomorrow, as youth and community organizers join researchers and practitioners to explore the unique mental health challenges faced by young people whose careers and dreams are thwarted by their immigration status.  It takes place Tuesday, November 1, at 3:30 p.m. at the Adler School of Psychology, 17 N. Dearborn.

Among the presenters is Dr. Roberto Gonzalez of the University of Chicago, who was recently interviewed in another Local Reporting Initiative project, a report on the state of undocumented youth by The Gate newspaper in Back of the Yards.

By the way, don’t miss the video created by The Gate along with the community newspaper report posted here earlier.

Communities act on food deserts

With Michelle Obama visiting a food desert in Chicago – and a new report indicating some progress on food access in Chicago – a new video from the Westside Writing Project offers authentic youth voices with a ground-level view of the issue.

Gwendolyn Pepin and Richard Marion report the statistics, particularly the disparities in access to affordable health food in low-income African American and Latino communities.  And they cover the health impacts, including higher levels of diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease.

They also look at community efforts to address the problem, including the Healthy Stores Campaign, which places fresh fruit stands in convenience stores, along with the West Humboldt Park Farmers Market, the Monarch Community Garden, Patchwork Farm, and a new fresh food cooperative at the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.

Also new from WWP is a video report looking at the key issues in the NBA lockout, which “reminds us that professional sports is really all about business.”

‘Mother Hens’ and health reform

Just about every community group has a “mother hen” – a trusted elder to whom people turn with questions, and who can connect them with services — as one community health advocate describes it for Illinois Health Matters.  Such grassroots leaders will be crucial to the success of health reform, according to a new report for IHM’s Neighborhood Stories.

Especially in underserved areas, community groups have important work to do as health reform rolls out – educating community members, helping them navigate the new system, and providing feedback to health providers.

Some of that work is underway.  This summer the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition and other groups held a webinar on health reform for 100 people representing community groups.  Erie Neighborhood House is discussing workshops for its clients on health reform.

Neighborhood Stories also features a new photo essay, Wellness on the Westside, looking at the work of the Lawndale Christian Health Center and profiling one of the center’s clients, Eliazar Mejia.

Preparing for health reform

What are policymakers and various employer and industry groups doing to shape health care reform in Illinois – and what is the role of community leaders and residents?  Two new installments of Neighborhood Stories at Illinois Health Matters look at these questions.

Policymakers are looking at coordination of care, workplace issues, and expansion of Medicaid, IHM reports in Making Health the Best Policy, while legislators consider issues in setting up a state insurance exchange.  Should the exchange be an active purchaser or an “aggregator,” a “Travelocity” for insurance plans?  Illinois Health Reform Implementation Council co-chair Michael Gelder tells IHM that the insurance industry is working to restrict access to exchanges, which would increase costs for participants.

Community leaders on the South and West Sides will have a big role in educating new consumers in the next couple of years, IHM says.  Right now they should be talking up the advantages of health reform, countering efforts to undermine the new program.

A new photo essay, Policy to the People, visits a back-to-school and senior wellness fair in Avalon Park and talks with State Senator Donne Trotter about challenges in implementing health reform.

Black youth on AIDS at 30

At 30, the AIDS epidemic is older than three young black men who speak out as part of Windy City Times’ AIDS at 30 series, produced in partnership with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

Yet it is among young people that HIV infection rates continue to climb.  That reflects a lack of education, says Marlin Pierre, but it also reflects a need for young people to be more responsible.

“Today’s society of youth is not educated on how harmful this disease is,” says Pierre. “Most youth are not informed or taught the fundamentals of what HIV is and how it could be prevented.”  He adds: “Most youth are having sex with numerous people and are not using protection.”

Pierre, Brian Williams, and James Bibbs speak frankly about resistance to condoms, the role of drug usage as well as rape in spreading HIV/AIDS, and the problem of people not telling their partners they are infected.

“A prevention plan around all these topics needs to occur to help the youth and show them and teach them a more positive approach on how to prevent the epidemic of HIV and AIDS,” says Williams.

Bibbs highlights the advice and support he’s gotten from his sister, his mother, and his grandmother.

The series features general news about HIV/AIDS along with profiles of people living with AIDS and people and organizations fighting HIV/AIDS in a variety of ways.  It’s ongoing, so check it out and come back again.