2021 Week 1: Healthcare/Health Policy

OZIOMA ANYANWU | MOMCARES

This past week was spent getting accustomed to and learning more about my placement this summer. I’m working with MOMCares, which is “a postpartum doula program designed to support mothers of color in the NICU who identify themselves as under-supported and facing financial stressors”. On my first day, I had the opportunity to learn more about the founder, Ana Rodney, her experiences, and how they led her to create MOMCares.

Ana’s journey began when she gave birth to her son prematurely, subsequently leading to a 6-month stay in the NICU. Throughout her son’s stay in the NICU and through multiple interactions with healthcare professionals, Ana found that there was a need outside of the traditional healthcare setting for compassionate and unbiased care, particularly for Black women. As a result, MOMCares was born. Although she initially started with forming healing circles to give mothers the opportunity to be in community with one another and encourage self-care practices, they’ve now expanded to a slightly larger team of about 5 people and regularly hold several programming events including Breastfeeding support programs and supply drives.

Having the opportunity to learn more about MOMCares was amazing this past week but above all else, it was very affirming. For as long as I can remember I wanted to go into healthcare, but in the same vein I’ve never wanted to work in a hospital; they’ve always felt so cold and impersonal. Today, I now know that our current healthcare system is full of biases, racism, and other injustices that detract from what’s most important, the person seeking care. And as a black woman, I’ve witnessed and experienced first-hand the ways in which the healthcare system can work adamantly against you. Fortunately, MOMCares takes a completely different approach. This became incredibly evident to me in learning about their values, the first three of which being Anti-racist thought, Collaboration, and Community. In very recent history, these ideals have been brought into discussions surrounding healthcare, yet still in a very performative way. On the flip side, MOMCares has been using language like this since they began.

In all, I’ll be working amongst people like me who have been doing work I thought only existed in my hypothetical future. Part of me is a bit anxious to join in on their incredible work, but overall, I’m ready to be part of the team.

CARLOS BURI-NAGUA | CENTRO SOL

My first week at CentroSOL consisted of necessary yet interactive trainings (ex: “Yes, And: Using the Fun of Improv to Build Webinar Community” workshop), and I conducted outreach calls to parents and students participating in the organization’s summer programs. One of the summer programs – Youthworks/Summer Engagement – provides students the opportunity to gain soft skills and develop their professional skills as many face substantial administrative barriers. With the vision to diversify the workforce and in collaboration with Youthworks, CentroSOL matches youth with our community partners.

This year, the pandemic and online learning have disrupted the youth’s education, and these outcomes are evident. For example, many students have failed at least one or more classes this year and are required to enroll in summer classes. Many people don’t know about the effects of failing a class past the idea that the student would have to retake it during the summer or next school year. However, what if those students had a summer experience/program waiting for them? Would they need to give up the program?

Unfortunately, I do not know the answer for all as many programs is different from each other. But, it is saddening to think about youth giving up their summer experience/program for failing a class given their current situation. Aside from learning online, COVID-19 cases are still present, and many families, especially those from a lower socioeconomic class, continue to face challenges. In addition, Baltimore has low graduation rates as its public schools do not perform on the same level as public schools across the nation. Given the low graduation rates of Baltimore public school students, I wonder about the dynamic and relationship between their online learning and student performance.

In addition, I think about students who have less internet access, a lack of supplies, and at times, a lack of a safe space to focus on their studies. The transition to virtual learning has opened my eyes to the challenges of students from a lower socioeconomic status and to the concept of how different (public) school systems approach the transition period.

JULIA BURLESON | BALTIMORE HARM REDUCTION COALITION

This week, I’ve spent the majority of my time reading about the history of opioids in the U.S., changes in the social welfare system to help people who use drugs, and harm reduction as a philosophy. The biggest takeaway from the readings is that the most harmful consequence of drug addiction is not the drugs themselves but their criminalization. The punitive approach to drugs and addiction is surprisingly recent (since the 1920s) and began as the population of addicts shifted from middle-income white females to low-income black males. The public became less empathetic towards addiction, and we see this in social insurance policies as the government no longer saw substance dependence as a disabling mental illness but rather as criminal behavior.

Some of my readings this week included quotes and stories directly from people who were addicted to heroin and crack. They described the sensations they experienced while using drugs and affected their daily lives. As I read, I realized that until now, I had never heard someone who uses drugs describe how they felt while they were using. The stories and papers I read before this week either took a very clinical approach to addiction and drug use or focused on the consequences and reasons for using drugs. Why had my knowledge about drugs and addiction until now not include the voices of people who formerly or currently use drugs? As I did a quick Google search to find articles about addiction from people who use drugs, I found that many mainstream sources of news and research also marginalized the voices of people who actually use drugs. Even when I found articles that people who use drugs wrote about addiction, they were often short anecdotes about addiction treatment programs and overwhelmingly written by white people.

In the coming weeks, I want to learn more about the experiences of all people who use drugs from people who use drugs, especially minorities and those who are not in treatment programs. While my readings were about the U.S. in general, I hope to learn more about how drugs and drug policies have impacted Baltimore communities specifically.

KOYE OPUTA | EPISCOPAL REFUGEE & IMMIGRANT CENTER ALLIANCE

Wednesday night, I was informed of an undocumented family at high risk of being placed into a shelter. Thursday 9:00 AM, I began calling several rehousing nonprofits and government-funded programs. I was met with the dispirited, sometimes angry, answer of “They’ll probably be put into a shelter, but you can try calling [insert rehousing program number here].”
Before 12-noon of that same day, our program received a call seeking help for another migrant family, likely to be soon placed in a shelter. Hours of unsuccessful calls only led to the revelation that the migrant crisis is quickly becoming a housing crisis.

After joining each rehousing program’s callback list, I asked if there were any suggestions as to what else could be done for these families. The common answer was, “If we can’t get them a house, get them a community.” Community is critical, not just in the way of emotional and cultural support, but also in a practical sense. I’ve seen how the Central American community in Baltimore provides a home for a family seeking out more long-term housing. How the community provides caretakers for the kids on summer break, allowing the parents to seek out work. How that same community can keep spirits high as a father wakes early to take his English classes and continue his job search, though his prospects seem no better than the night before.

This past week has made words like “community” and “shelter” more tangible to me than first-hand experience ever did. This week, I saw what my life—from a far-off distance—would have been without. Without the aunt who housed my pregnant mother in one state as my father sought work in another. Without my uncle who babysat my siblings and me as my mom went to night school. Without my grandma finding her way to America to care for my newborn sister as my parents took on second jobs. We need more housing for our migrant families in Baltimore, and we need to get them connected in their respective cultural communities. And again, we need more housing.

INDIRA SUMMERVILLE | SHEPHERD’S CLINIC

This past week at my placement has been truly wonderful. I was able to meet and get to know my fellow coworkers and volunteers, as well as get an opportunity to speak to patients! However, getting to and from my placement has posed a bit of a struggle, due to the fact that I take the city buses (the MTA buses) as my primary form of transportation. Almost every day this past week, the bus I plan to take either comes extremely late, or not at all, prompting me to either have to wait for the next bus and risk being late to work, or pay an astronomical amount of money to take an Uber/Lyft. While this has posed an inconvenience for me, fortunately I have the means to quickly find other modes of transportation if my original plan does not work. However, my experience with the bus this past week has made me think about how for many Baltimore residents, this is the only way for them to get around the city. Either to and from work, school, or even just running errands like going to the grocery store in order to put food on the table. Late buses, or buses that do not arrive at all pose a serious threat to Baltimore residents that rely on public transportation, as they are placed at a significant disadvantage. For instance, people who have the means not to rely on public transportation only have to worry about themselves and their mode of transportation, such as by car. Residents who must rely on buses are forced to account for lateness, even if they were ready and willing to take the necessary bus to get to their destination.

I can imagine that in situations where two people work the same job, with one using unreliable public transportation, and one using their own mode of transportation (car, bike, etc.), the one taking public transportation may be at more risk of being late. And if they are continuously late to work, that may not only impact their energy and stress levels due to being in a constant rush, but also may affect their reputation at work, which could lead to them getting lower wages, or being at a higher risk of getting terminated. As most residents that are solely reliant on public transportation are more likely to be low-middle class people, getting lower wages or getting fired from a job can be extremely detrimental to them and their families, and if it is happening disproportionately to a certain demographic of people within the city, the income levels of that demographic will continue to be negatively affected by the unreliability of public transportation, perpetuating income inequality and potentially even stereotypes about work ethic and dedication within low-middle class people. So, while it may just seem like an inconsequential “late bus” to some, that consistent unreliability has the potential to have a snowball effect that results in countless challenges for low-middle income Baltimore residents. I would like to do some more research into why the buses are so unreliable, and which communities are most affected by this issue.

MICHAEL VIDAL | ESPERANZA CENTER

My first week at Esperanza Center was demanding. And no — I am not talking about the physical demands. Despite having to wake up early for the first time in many months, the energy and movement within the clinic keep the work exciting. The staff are some of the friendliest people I have met, sharing their compassion to each other and patients. The demand I am describing is an emotional one. In the short week, I had the opportunity to speak to hundreds of patients with drastically varied stories; yet a common underlying theme: all their struggles or illness are easily preventable with proper, human care.

In four days, the inequity explored during orientation became readily apparent in my work. I spoke with patients that could not afford glasses, patients without access to internet, patients with severe diseases, patients looking for any support possible. My supervisor told me something that struck me about a common patient profile. Many patients at Esperanza have severe kidney disease. Why? The harsh and inhumane working conditions agriculture companies use to exploit vulnerable people for profit. From toxic pesticides, the patients’ kidneys are exhausted and failing — this is made worse as some companies force workers to go without water in the hot and labor-intensive agricultural fields. Exploitation by companies and government are directly translating to lives lost.

This impacted me because the lives of immigrants are frequently debated at a national scale. The U.S. boarder, green card access, asylum, citizenship are discussed with bias from the mouths of typically white, privileged news casters or government officials. Yet, the direct impact of these laws are not disclosed. People worry about the economic impacts of allowing immigrant access to health and work in the United States. But very infrequent is the worry on the lives of the immigrants themselves. They are rarely centered in these conversations; instead, the framing is on the impacts towards established, privileged U.S. citizens.

I am excited to continue hearing their stories and working with an organization that tries to alleviate some burden, some worry, for immigrants in Baltimore. A critique of non-profits was explored in BITES that explained the system non-profits work within requires the issue to exist and perpetuate. While true in some cases, I cannot see this application towards Esperanza Center. This clinic, although not changing the systemic issues in health faced by immigrants, makes those invisible visible. Until systemic change occurs, those experiencing violence in present must be prioritized as well.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,