Champions of Change Blog

  • Serving AAPI Communities in the Midwest

    Ranjana Paintal

    Ranjana Paintal is being honored as a Health in the AAPI Community Champion of Change.

    I am honored to be chosen along with my fellow counterparts as a Champion of Change. Over the last year, I have served as program manager for the Asian Health Coalition’s partnership consortium around education, outreach and enrollment to underserved Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPIs) communities in Illinois, which has been made possible through the Affordable Care Act. My participation at the local level has been fulfilling both on a personal and professional level in this landmark national effort. However, this award magnifies this sense of fulfillment because it furthers one of our agency’s most significant goals- to bring attention to the challenges of the marginalized immigrant and refugee communities in Illinois. 

    “No community should be invisible to its government” said President Barack Obama when he unveiled his vision to meet the growing and unmet needs of this country’s AAPI community a few years ago.  These words have been central to our mission at the Asian Health Coalition as many of the immigrant communities that we work with have historically lacked health insurance and access to basic preventative care.

    Illinois is home to the 5th largest AAPI population in the nation and also the largest in the Midwest region. As more than two-thirds of AAPIs in Illinois are immigrants, the passage of the Affordable Care Act presents an amazing opportunity to address the needs of the communities that our consortium serves and allows them to have access to health care services which we regard as a basic human right.

    Our consortium of community-based organizations and their certified navigators have been cultural brokers in the education, outreach and enrollment of their community members. Right from the beginning, our navigators educated each of the unique populations that they served about the Affordable Care Act and how it could help them, and then followed up to ensure that those needing assistance in the enrollment process received the help that they needed. Culturally sensitive and language appropriate educational materials were created with feedback from our community partners; ethnic news media outlets, and key stakeholders including community leaders were educated to help spread the word within their networks.  As a result, these communities had access to simple and jargon-free information in their native language, were encouraged to sign up from those they trusted most (faith leaders, community leaders and elders), and had trustworthy spokespeople from within their community who they could rely on to navigate them through the enrollment process. Thanks to the efforts of my colleagues and our partners, we had an incredibly successful enrollment period, surpassing our enrollment goals and educating thousands of individuals.

    As a mother of 2 young children it gives me peace of mind to know that with the help of my health insurance I am better able to take care of myself so that I can take care of them. I look forward to the day when every parent in this country can say this, no matter what community they live in, what language they speak and where they are from.  I’m proud that I was able to play a role in this historic initiative that will hopefully bring us to that day.

    Ranjana Paintal is Program Manager for Asian Health Coalition of Illinois

  • Making Health Care a Reality

    Priscilla Huang

    Priscilla Huang is being honored as a Health in the AAPI Community Champion of Change.

    Of the over 2 million Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) who are uninsured, Bishnu Kamar was just one of the many. She was one of the many people who lived in fear of what might happen when they get sick and one of the many who could not afford quality coverage no matter how hard she worked as a social worker in her Philadelphia community.

    Through the Affordable Care Act, Bishnu was able to get covered and it now offers new opportunities for better health for millions of other AAPIs just like her. This is why Action for Health Justice was created.  It was co-founded by my organization, the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Los Angeles.

    We launched this national, coordinated initiative because we wanted to ensure the Affordable Care Act was not just a promise, but a reality for AAPIs. With communities spanning 50 different ethnicities and speaking more than 100 different languages, the only way to ensure success was to develop culturally and linguistically tailored outreach strategies.

    Together, we tackled the challenge head-on. We leveraged the expertise and reach of national partners and the collective forces of more than 70 community-based organizations and health centers, implementing a multi-part strategy rooted in and driven by community need. On the ground in 21 states, we channeled our energies to where assistance was most needed: immigrant families facing complex eligibility questions and those with language barriers. Most importantly, we knew that providing education would not be enough. To be the most effective, we combined education through trusted messengers with new resources, coordinated efforts tailored specifically to help limited-English-proficient Americans get covered and worked closely with enrollment assisters to monitor and troubleshoot the enrollment process.

    From providing tens of thousands of AAPIs with information, to large town halls in California and beyond, we have gone to where our communities live, work, play and worship to promote the first open enrollment period. For many of the people we helped, Action for Health Justice partners were the first and only source of assistance they received.

    Our work would never have been possible without the tireless efforts of our community partners and health centers. When I hear coverage stories like Bishnu’s, or the many others Action for Health Justice helped, the Affordable Care Act becomes a little more real. With the first enrollment period behind us, we at Action for Health Justice remain committed to educating AAPIs and all communities about their health care options now and beyond. Action for Health Justice is a testament to the power and strength that can come from collective action. I am humbled to be a part of that and honored to make health care a reality for so many.

    Priscilla Huang is Policy Director for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum, an organization that co-founded Action for Health Justice along with the Association of Asian Pacific Community Health Organizations, Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, and Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Los Angeles. 

  • Bringing Health Insurance to AAPI Immigrants in New York

    Minja Hong

    Minja Hong is being honored as a Health in the AAPI Community Champion of Change.

    The New York Metropolitan area where my organization serves is often the initial stepping stone for first generation immigrants who choose to make their lives here in the United States. They come here to work, to educate their children, and to create homes. This is no less true of members of the Korean community. Therefore, Korean Community Services’ mission is to support their aspirations through ESL classes, job training, and after-school classes that create culturally and linguistically appropriate social safety nets that make for stronger families and communities.

    My role as a Community Health Advocate, and as a state certified Navigator, allows me to understand all the practical challenges of receiving equal access healthcare, even in a diverse city such as ours. When open enrollment started, roughly one out of four individuals in the Korean community, were estimated to be without insurance due to linguistic, cultural, and financial barriers.

    As a result, the Navigators at my organization and I, needed to identify and problem solve how we would address concerns specific to the immigrant population when it came to this historical change in our Nation’s healthcare law. Through the support and collaboration with other minority organizations in New York we were able to find much needed answers and apply them while still maintaining full enrollment schedules. In addition, we were compelled to add New Jersey Korean Americans to our roster of clients because of the overwhelming need for language competent services. To accomplish this, my colleagues and I went through another round of training specific to the federal marketplace and traveled to New Jersey sites to provide services throughout the entire open enrollment period. I was also privileged to be able to serve the Japanese community in the region in learning about their options in order to participate more fully in the healthcare reform.

    Since our branch office is located in Midtown Manhattan it soon became evident to me that our role as bi-lingual Navigators was not only about exposing the challenges and distinctions in securing equal access healthcare to minority groups, but more about finding a common ground with the entire community. Regardless of race, language, creed or gender, the need to be healthy and to make sure one’s children are healthy was always the same. I am privileged to be able to work with driven and far-seeing colleagues, both in and outside my immediate organization, that continue to persevere in ensuring that people are empowered to make their own healthcare choices through education and changes in policy. My hope, going forward, is that despite the difficulties, or perhaps because of them, we find more common ground in the things that affect us all, such as access to healthcare, so that we can move toward creating healthy and productive communities.

    Minja Hong is Program Coordinator of Healthcare Access Services at Korean Community Services of Metropolitan New York

  • Helping South Asians Get Covered in California

    Manju Kulkarni

    Manju Kulkarni is being honored as a Health in the AAPI Community Champion of Change.

    South Asian Network (SAN) is a community-based organization, dedicated to the mission of promoting the health, solidarity and empowerment of South Asian Americans in Southern California.  Founded in 1990, SAN is one of the oldest South Asian American community-based organizations in the nation.  Our offices are located in the City of Artesia in the heart of “Little India.”

    Since 2003, SAN has been working to improve the health of the South Asian community in Southern California.  Currently, the Community Health Action Initiative (CHAI) serves the health and health care access needs of South Asian Americans and immigrants in the following ways:  (1) outreach and education on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and enrollment assistance in Covered California, California’s health benefit exchange; (2) outreach and enrollment assistance in other public benefit programs including Medicaid, Medicare, Food Stamps and SSI; (3) patient navigation services; (4) health education on cancer prevention, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, stress management and depression; (5) a caregivers’ support group for those individuals caring for seniors; (6) mental health services for  adults, children and seniors; and (7) a seniors’ walking club and nutrition program.   

    SAN was the only South Asian organization in California to be certified to provide outreach, education and enrollment assistance in the state’s health benefit exchange, Covered California.  This allowed our staff to conduct outreach to over 2400 individuals. In addition, SAN received coverage in two national media outlets, the LA Times and PRI’s The World, in one state resource, California Health, as well as several local ethnic media outlets on our work to educate South Asians on the benefits of the Affordable Care Act and assist with enrollment in Covered California.

    Our staff and board of directors are most proud of  the social justice framework which enables us to envision a more just and equitable world, our efforts to engage in prevention as much as service provision, and our success at incorporating diversity of the South Asian community throughout the organization.   

    Manjusha Kulkarni is Executive Director of South Asian Network (SAN).

  • Reaching Out to Underserved AAPI Communities in Pima County, Arizona

    Howard Eng

    Howard Eng is being honored as a Health in the AAPI Community Champion of Change.

    The Pima County AAPI Navigator Program’s primary goal is to reduce the number Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) uninsured in Pima County, Arizona. To accomplish this goal, the program uses both general and specified community cultural, linguistically and appropriate literacy level outreach approaches. The Program works with AAPI community leaders and partners to identify the most appropriate and effective public education and outreach approaches that can be used to reach their communities’ uninsured.

    There are many challenges in outreaching to the AAPI populations in Pima County. Some of these include: (1) the AAPI populations are scattered throughout a very large county (larger than New Jersey); (2) many of the AAPI communities are not receptive to outsider interactions; (3) cultural and language barriers; (4) lack of awareness about health coverage availability; (5) limited health literacy; (6) do not see the urgency or the need for health coverage; and (7) even with subsidized coverage with the Health Insurance Marketplace for some AAPI families, it still may not be affordable.

    To overcome many of these challenges, the Navigator Program works closely with AAPI community leaders and partners to determine if there is a need for Program assistance to outreach to the uninsured. If there is a need for assistance, the community leaders help to identify the most appropriate and effective public education and outreach approaches that can be used to reached their communities’ uninsured. The program uses cultural, linguistically and appropriate literacy level outreach approaches as well as work within the community culture and structure (e.g., giving public presentations to AAPI community and faith-based groups in English and their preferred language, if needed and providing Marketplace and other health care coverage information booths at AAPI community events). It takes time and patience to overcome the challenges and requires a long term approach in establishing a strong working relationship with the communities. 

    Looking past open enrollment, from December 2013 to August 2014, the Navigator Program plans to outreach 7 to 8 different Asian American and Pacific Islander communities in Pima County. The Program outreached to the Bhutanese community in December 2013, Marshallese community in January 2014, Filipino and Chinese communities in February-March, and plans to begin outreach to the Asian Indian community in April.

    Howard Eng is Assistant Professor and Director of the Southwest Border Rural Health Research Center, Center for Rural Health, The University of Arizona College of Public Health

  • Reaching Rural Hmong Communities

    Bruce Thao

    Bruce Thao is being honored as a Health in the AAPI Community Champion of Change.

    My family arrived in the United States in December of 1975—greeted by winter in Iowa. Like many other Hmong refugee families, they struggled through poverty, learning a new language, and navigating a maze of systems seemingly built to keep them away from the very services they needed. My parents are proud and resilient and were able to make a better life for us despite having just survived war, refugee camps and leaving all they’ve ever known behind. It is this resilience and indomitable spirit which drives me and my work with Hmong American Partnership (HAP) and its subsidiary, Hmong National Development (HND).

    Though the Hmong have come a long way having been in the U.S. for almost 40 years, we still have far to go. In 2010, 1 in 4 Hmong families lived in poverty, which is one of the highest rates across race and ethnic groups in America. In addition, the Hmong community has disproportionately low educational attainment rates and high rates of death from cancer and incidence of other ailments such as Hepatitis B, stroke, diabetes and gout. These health disparities can partly be attributed to a lack of health insurance and not receiving preventative care. By the time they are in front of a doctor they may be in stage 4 of liver or breast cancer.

    When the Affordable Care Act passed, HAP and HND knew we had to get information out to our communities, particularly for the growing Hmong communities in Minnesota, California, and the South. While states like California, Minnesota and Wisconsin continue to have the highest Hmong populations (over 200,000 in these three states), we have seen an exponential increase in the Hmong population in the South (now over 20,000 Hmong in southern states). They are located in rural communities that do not have the capacity or infrastructure to provide healthcare outreach or education to the Hmong.

    The majority of the Hmong in the South lack health insurance, many had never heard of the Affordable Care Act, and are illiterate in both Hmong and English. So we knew we had a tough task to tackle. In Arkansas, Missouri and North Carolina, HND conducted outreach and created relationships between Hmong community leaders, enrollment agencies and healthcare providers, identifying language assistance and interpreters where available. Through community meetings and conference lines, we connected communities across states and rural areas to educate them. To date we have provided education and outreach to over 500 Hmong farmers and families in the South that otherwise have been unreachable by mainstream agencies.

    The keys to our success lie in leveraging community leaders and ethnic media and the power of word of mouth. Our history as a persecuted ethnic minority group has forced us to rely on oral tradition to carry our heritage and our identity. We utilize radio, conference lines, word of mouth and the power of story to get the word out to our communities to know that there are resources available and ways to receive healthcare. Our combined national efforts have resulted in close to 20,000 Hmong and other Southeast Asians learning about the Affordable Care Act and over 2,000 receiving healthcare coverage across the country.

    Bruce Thao is Director of Programs for Hmong American Partnership (HAP) and Hmong National Development (HND).