Teresita Batayola is being honored as a Health in the AAPI Community Champion of Change.
Forty one years ago, idealistic community volunteers and student activists came together to create a free clinic for low-income, isolated Chinese and Filipino elderly in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. As waves of immigrants and refugees sought refuge and a home in the Seattle area, ICHS stepped up to embrace new populations with high-quality, affordable healthcare. That tradition of activism, volunteerism and inclusiveness continues to be vibrant today.
During the movement for health care reform and the passage of the Affordable Care Act, ICHS networked with coalitions around the state to organize, provide patient stories and testimonies, and contact national and state legislators. Once the Affordable Care Act passed, ICHS advocated for Washington State’s adoption of expanded Medicaid and the establishment of the State’s Benefit Exchange through postcard and phone-in campaigns, meetings with elected officials, patient stories, media visibility, and engagement of non-traditional health care partners. However, elation for Washington’s decision to expand Medicaid and create a Health Benefit Exchange was short-lived as ICHS quickly shifted gears to prepare for outreach and enrollment.
ICHS knew that enrolling patients, families and community members into the new programs would be a challenge due to the number of immigrants and refugees who had limited English proficiency, varying immigration status, the mixed eligibility for members in the same family, the lack of understanding about insurance and western health care, and uneven financial abilities to maintain coverage. Nevertheless, the ICHS team of community advocates, health educators, eligibility workers and others began planning outreach and enrollment even with the uncertainty of any funding available. Thankfully, ICHS successfully obtained funding from the federal government and a private foundation to hire 6 In-Person Assisters. ICHS leveraged the funding to obtain training and certification for 25 staffs to provide in-person assistance.
ICHS’ in-person assisters, community advocates, health educators, and eligibility workers worked to actively help anyone learn about health reform and apply for insurance. All of these staff are bilingual and bi-cultural and provide enrollment support in at least one Asian or Pacific Island language, including Cantonese, Khmer, Korean, Mandarin, Punjabi, Samoan, and Vietnamese. ICHS also partnered with community based organizations, faith-based organizations, grocery stores, community centers, and libraries to meet the community need, sending staffs to train others and scheduling field enrollment sessions in addition to appointments in ICHS clinics. An example of a key partnership is with the City of Bellevue’s mini City Hall located in a shopping center. The mini City Hall provided space for the in-person assister and assistance with Russian and Spanish languages, while another partner, Chinese Information and Service Center, provided Chinese interpretation. ICHS staffs remained positive throughout enrollment even when faced with the challenges of appointments longer than an hour due to interpretation and the complexity of individual or family status, combined with the technical challenges of the Exchange.
Teresita Batayola is the Chief Executive Officer of International Community Health Services (ICHS) in Seattle, Washington.