Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Access Community Health

Recently I've been discussing how mentoring at-risk youth and leading them into college and careers rather than jails and the ER should be seen as a major public health issue and thus afforded adequate resources to expand programs in high poverty areas where kids are most at risk. The Tutor/Mentor Hospital Connection (T/MHC) lays out a plan to get community health organizations such as hospitals and clinics to understand how they benefit from the creation and support of mentoring-to-career programs and get them to contribute to the growth and success of these programs. For instance, by hosting 1-1 mentoring programs in community health care facilities, at-risk youth can be exposed to potential careers in the health care field such as physician's assistants, nurses and health care technicians that will be more and more in-demand in the future. Thus, supporting mentoring initiatives will provide these health care providers with a young and talented pool of potential employees in addition to the enhanced external publicity and community recognition for their efforts in helping to keep kids off the street and on the right track.

However, to make maximum impact, in creating these mentoring initiatives we should look to community health organizations that are already respected and making a positive impact in high-poverty communities that otherwise lack ample tutoring/mentoring programs. One such organization is Access Community Health Network.

Access Community Health Network operates over 50 community health centers in underserved, low-income neighborhoods around Chicago, providing over 600,000 primary care visits each year. The stated mission of Access is "to provide high quality, cost effective primary and preventative care without regard to health status or ability to pay." As I mentioned in my previous article about the T/MHC, research shows that education is one of the strongest predictors of health. As a recent report by the Centers for Disease control states: "More formal education is consistently associated with lower death rates (1) while less education predicts earlier death. The less schooling people have, the higher their levels of risky health behaviors such as smoking, being overweight, or having a low level of physical activity (2). High school graduation is a useful measure of educational attainment because its influence on health is well studied, and it is widely recognized as the minimum entry requirement for higher education and well-paid employment."

Therefore, why doesn't Access Health Care, which offers services such as childhood literacy promotion, host or otherwise support volunteer based mentoring programs that keep kids in school and away from risky health behaviors, as well as provide health care providers an opportunity to share preventative health curricula with the kids who could most benefit from it? In the coming months, I will be reaching out to health care providers such as Access, to try to get them to see the relevance of youth mentoring initiatives to their public health mission and get them to invest in the success of such programs around the city.

Have a very happy new year everyone!

(1)Molla M, Madans J, Wagener D. Differentials in adult mortality and activity limiation by years of education in the United States at the end of the 1990s. Popul Dev Rev 2004;30:625-46
(2)Lantz PM, House JS, Lepkowski JM, Williams DR, Mero RP, Chen J. Socioeconomic factors, health behaviors and mortality: results from a nationally representative prospective study of US adults. JAMA 1998; 279(21):1703-8


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