By Anna Bitners
Anna graciously submitted this post at the beginning of the summer, soon after she began her internship. I’m sure she has gained even more insight since she wrote this post, so if you find this interesting ask her about how the rest of her summer went! Without further ado, here’s Anna’s account of her first few weeks as an intern with Neighborcare Health:
This summer I am volunteering as a Community Outreach Intern at Neighborcare Health in Seattle, WA for nine weeks. Neighborcare is Seattle’s largest provider of dental and primary medical care that focuses on low-income and uninsured families, seniors, immigrants, and the homeless. They have 24 clinics located throughout the Greater Seattle Area. I am volunteering full-time across three of their locations: Columbia City, Rainier Beach, and High Point in West Seattle.
My internship started ten days ago. After settling in to the three locations, I began outreach work. One afternoon, the Columbia City clinic partnered with the local Seattle Public Library branch to promote summer reading by giving the children visiting the clinic a book. The kids were absolutely thrilled. It was fun to see them so excited about books and reading. They poured over the display table, carefully selecting a book to read. Parents were enthusiastic as well. Even if their kids weren’t at the clinic that day, we encouraged them to bring home a book for each child in their home. In addition to a book, the kids took home a packet of summer learning activities. If they complete some of them, they can bring the packet back to the library later in the summer and exchange it for two tickets to the Woodland Park Zoo.
The library outreach was so successful at the Columbia City location that I wanted to replicate it at the other clinics. I got in touch with a librarian from the library branch near the Rainier Beach clinic, and she immediately responded that she would love to do a similar event with me at the clinic. We picked two dates for library outreach, one in July and one in August. I’m excited to bring books and encourage the kids’ excitement for reading at a second location. I hope that the program continues after I finish my internship and return to Haverford in the fall.
Another project I am working on is to follow up with families whose children received in-school dental screenings. Neighborcare dentists performed the screenings at local Headstart, elementary, and middle schools in the spring. Students who had probable cavities or other dental needs were recorded. I have been calling these students’ parents and confirming that their children have access to dental care. If not, I offer to schedule an appointment at Neighborcare’s Rainier Beach Dental Clinic. Fortunately, most of the kids are under the care of a dentist who is monitoring their teeth; however, this is not the case for everyone. Some parents I talked to knew that their kids were due or overdue for dental care, but didn’t have a dentist. I made appointments for their kids at Neighborcare. I enjoyed these phone calls and the opportunity to connect kids with dental care, which is increasingly being recognized as integral to overall health.
Because it can be difficult for low-income families to acquire health insurance, Neighborcare has a team of Eligibility Specialists that help patients and potential patients navigate the complicated process of learning about the Affordable Care Act and how it applies to them, signing up for insurance, or applying for Neighborcare’s sliding scale fee system. One morning, I had the opportunity to shadow an Eligibility Specialist as she worked with patients to connect them with primary medical care. Depending on citizenship status, family size, income, and state residency, there are different programs to apply for. The process is complex. It is important that Neighborcare helps patients through this process and assists them in paying for their medical care in addition to providing medical care.
As I continue to volunteer at these three clinics, I hope to learn more about how medically-underserved patients access primary care. I also hope to continue and expand the outreach efforts –like the library event– that the clinic hosts.