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Monday, April 10, 2017

REACH Grantees Tell Senator Gillibrand’s Staff about Obamacare’s Other Benefits

On Friday, March 17th the Bronx Health REACH Coalition members from Walker Memorial Baptist Church, Church of God of Prophecy, and Christ the King Catholic Church, and representatives from the two other New York REACH grantees, Bronx Community Health Network and New York University School of Medicine REACH FAR project met and spoke with staff members from Senator Kristen Gillibrand's office to showcase the work REACH grantees are doing in several NYC communities. We felt it important to let the Senator know about the community transformation effect of REACH and that support for it comes out of the Prevention Fund in the ACA.

While the staff of the three REACH grantees spoke well of our respective work, it was the testimonials of the community residents present that illustrated the changes happening in the community. Sandra Jenkins, representing Church of God of Prophecy, shared the experience that at past church events soda would always be one of the first things consumed. But over the past year she has noticed that it’s now water that’s consumed first, leaving the soda virtually untouched. Flora Goldston, representing Walker Memorial Baptist Church, shared that there are now many parishioners at her church who are exercising more, visiting farmers markets, having their blood pressure checked. Bronx Health REACH is grateful to Senator Gillibrand’s staff for spending almost 2 hours with the group, learning of the work being done and its impact on the lives of community residents. We hope that with this information the senator will become a huge champion of REACH in the US Senate.

Bronx Health REACH Appears at NYU Community Health Forum and Just Food Conference

The Just Food Conference, a two day event featuring interactive workshops, policy discussions, and opportunities to advocate for equitable food policy, was held at Teachers College, Columbia University on Sunday, March 12th. Emma Rodgers from Bronx Health REACH appeared with Ramon Murphy, President of the Bodega Association and a Bronx Health REACH partner in the Healthy Bodega Program. The panel, Bronx Bodegas: Healthy Retail in the Bronx, also featured Montefiore Medical Center, BronxWorks and Urban Health Plan, each of whom is doing their own Healthy Bodega Programs.

The New York University College of Global Public Health held a Community Health Forum on Friday, March 10th and Bronx Health REACH's Charmaine Ruddock spoke on the panel, Promoting Inter-sectoral Partnerships. Other panelists included, Adrienne Abbate from the Staten Island Partnership for Community Wellness; Sandra Lobo from the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition; and Tamara Greenfield from Building Healthy Communities, the Mayor’s Office of Strategic Partnerships. Charmaine focused her remarks on the importance of aligning ones organization’s interests with those of ones partners and collaborators for successful inter-sectoral partnerships. To illustrate her point she cited Bronx Health REACH’s Healthy Bodega program which, in its current iteration, recognizes that the success of the program is contingent on bodega owners experience that selling healthy food is as good for their bottom line as it is for the health of their customers. In addition to the Healthy Bodega Initiative, Charmaine also shared with the audience a similar alignment of interests with the restaurant owners in Bronx Health REACH’s Healthy Restaurant Initiative.

Friday, March 31, 2017

For Our Community Health Workers There Are No Limits When it Comes to Assisting Patients in the Vegetable and Fruit Prescription Program

The Institute for Family Health’s Bronx Health REACH Vegetable and Fruit Prescription Program encourages obese patients to eat more fruits and vegetables. Six hundred and six patients across three Institute health centers in the Bronx - Stevenson, Mt. Hope and Walton - have received prescriptions for vegetables and fruits from their providers who encourage them to “fill” the Rx at supermarkets, bodegas, and farmers’ markets participating in the program. Patients attending a farmers’ market tour receive $10 worth of Health Bucks to spend at the market on fruits and vegetables. Health Bucks are $2 vouchers distributed by the New York City Department of Health to be used only for the purchase of fruits and vegetables at farmers markets.

Our Community Health Workers are a key element of the Vegetable and Fruit Prescription Program. They provide the patients with nutrition information, invite them to participate in the food demos held at the health centers, and attend tours of supermarkets, bodegas and farmers’ markets. Joseph Ellis, our current Community Health Worker, is a lifelong resident of the Bronx with a remarkable commitment to the community and his fellow residents. As he enrolls patients into the Vegetable and Fruit Prescription Program, conducts baseline and follow-up surveys, coordinates the supermarket and farmers market tours, and assists in food demonstrations he is constantly encouraging patients to make even small changes in their eating habits  that can go a long way to improving their health.

Joseph describes his role as very rewarding. He attributes that to his interaction with the community residents and the fact that he works with some amazing people at the health centers. Working with patients at the health centers has made him more conscious of social issues affecting the community. “I didn’t realize the amount of help that some people need. Needing [assistance] with nutrition and learning to eat healthier doesn’t have a particular face, color, or economic background. People are in need of help and we do our best to aid the patients any way we can.” He recalls one instance where a provider from the Walton Family Health Center approached him regarding a concern he had about a patient. The patient was not taking her medicine because she could not afford to buy food, and for the medicine to work, it needed to be taken with food. Immediately, Joseph went to a local church food pantry and was able to get 2 bags of groceries for the patient. He also gave her information about 2 other food pantries that were located near her home. With tears in her eyes, she thanked him and let him know what a great help he had been.

Zaira Hernandez, a former Community Health Worker in the Vegetable and Fruit Prescription Program agrees that her experience in the program has also been filled with many learning experiences. “Working as a Community Health Worker for the Vegetable and Fruit prescription program has been an incredible experience. Many patients have shared with me their love of fruits and vegetables, but that they find it difficult to buy healthy food where they live.”

Zaira remembers one patient telling her that when she would visit her native country, the Dominican Republic, she was able to not only purchase fruits and vegetables at a lower price, but she could also literally get them from her backyard where there were mango trees providing her free daily access to fresh fruit. In contrast, when she returned to the Bronx she no longer had those options. Zaira was able to connect the patient to services where she could purchase fruits and vegetables.

Changing one’s eating habits is not an easy goal, but with our Community Health Worker's knowledge, passion and commitment to improving patient’s health, our Community Health Workers are making a difference with the Vegetable and Fruit Prescription Program.

An Activist at Heart, Tish James Fights for Health Equity

“I’m going to step outside of being an elected official for a moment because in my heart of hearts, I am an activist,” expressed Letitia James, Public Advocate for the City of New York at the December Bronx Health REACH Coalition Meeting. That sense of activism began in her teens after her brother had been arrested and accused of stealing a bicycle. She went to court with her mother and it was the poor treatment by the court staff that day which made Ms. James commit to becoming an attorney so others would have an advocate and not have to be at the mercy of the court system. Ms. James graduated from Howard University School of Law, earning her law degree in 1989. After that she worked as a public defender for the Legal Aid Society. She served as a councilwoman representing Fort Greene, Brooklyn. In 2014, Ms. James became New York City Public Advocate. She is the first woman of color to hold any citywide elected official position.

To assure health equity for all New York City residents, the Public Advocate has the ability to introduce legislation and work closely with members of the City Council along with the Governor and Mayor to address the disparities that currently exist. One of the issues she has focused on throughout her career has been improving people’s access to healthcare, and protecting the safety net that public hospitals provide. As a Councilmember Ms. James was involved in saving Interfaith Medical Center in Brooklyn on two occasions when it had been scheduled to close, as well as attempting to save, though it eventually closed, North Central Bronx Hospital’s labor and delivery, nursery and neonatal care units in the Bronx. She has also been a fierce champion of the services needed to reduce and eventually eliminate infant mortality. “Fort Green had one of the highest infant mortality rates and I created an initiative to address infant mortality not just in Brooklyn, but the South Bronx as well.”

At the Bronx Health REACH Community Coalition meeting last December, Ms. James shared some of the concerns her constituents have with the new administration. “My constituents are the residents of the City of New York and many of them are now very fearful.  Our Muslim residents fear that they will be profiled, placed on a list or deported. There is fear within the LGBTQ community; fear among young women concerned about their reproductive health; fear among African-Americans that we are going to lose all the progress that have been made.”

When asked about the steps the Bronx should take to move out of being ranked the unhealthiest county in New York State, Ms. James pointed to the many problems begging for solutions. “Efforts focused on healthy living are still not enough. Smoking cessation continues to be a problem. Exercise tends to be a challenge and the fact that our diets are so heavily laden with starch and sugar is a major problem. Solutions must include renovating our playgrounds and parks where individuals can exercise; forgiving the loans of doctors who would serve in medically underserved communities all throughout New York City, and ensuring that mental health is available for all who need it. These are but a few of the solutions needed if the Bronx is to move from being ranked 62 out of 62.”

What does the future hold for Ms. James? “My immediate focus is on doing the most good for the citizens of New York who elected me as their Public Advocate. The world does not revolve around one’s self. We have a responsibility and a duty to care for others. That is the rent one pays to be here on earth.”