Tulane VISTA Blog

Fighting Poverty with Passion

Field Report: YMCA Educational Services (YES!)–Stephanie W.

One of the many things my parents nag about is my health. Those of us who are fortunate enough have lived relatively healthy lives or at least felt invincible at some point in our youth. It isn’t until you see your grandparents’ and subsequently your parents’ and relatives’ health declining that you begin to take your own wellness more seriously. Personally, I suffer from an overactive immune system which translates into seasonal allergies, food allergies, pet dander allergies, and asthma. Having a supply of Benadryl, Loratadine, and tissues alleviates the annoying symptoms of my ailments; but when you find yourself in the emergency room after unknowingly eating peanuts, you realize how important it is to be prepared—like actually filling your prescriptions and having them on hand for emergencies. In my peanut case, I left my Epi-Pen at home so my boyfriend at the time had to make a rush delivery to my workplace.

When it comes to healthcare, the struggle never ends. If you’ve ever had to change your health insurance provider or physician, transfer your medical records to a different network, make a claim, dispute a charge—anything, you know how much of a drawn-out headache the processes can be. Personally, there have been times when I intentionally avoided the doctor, chose not to fill prescriptions, or asked others not to call an ambulance. This is not unusual. We make these decisions based on our personal situation and ability, but other times it’s out of our hands.

So what does healthcare look like when you’re a formerly incarcerated person re-entering society? Last week I attended a seminar that examined just how neglected and underrated healthcare is in ex-offender re-entry programs. There does not appear to be an effort to provide comprehensive reintegration back into society especially through the Department of Corrections (DOC). The seminar titled “Responsive Healthcare: Identifying and addressing the needs of formerly incarcerated persons” was presented by doctors Anjali Niyogi and Ashley Wennerstrom from the Formerly Incarcerated Transitions (FIT) Clinic, a volunteer-based clinic located at Ruth U. Fertel Tulane Community Health Center. The FIT Clinic takes patients who are formerly incarcerated individuals seeking transitional healthcare upon release from prison. Doctor Niyogi and Wennerstrom created a preliminary study using a sample of patients who were all African American males (a women’s study is their next step); whose average incarceration time was 18 years; average amount of time since release was about 8 months; and average age is approximately 50+. What they have found thus far is a disconnect and lack of transitional assistance many individuals with chronic illnesses are faced with upon release. The challenges they encounter include but are not limited to:

  • No health insurance or when they do apply, not having a stable physical or mailing address which prevents them from being eligible to apply
  • Prison-issued prescriptions that are not valid (apparently there are physicians with suspended or expired licenses writing scripts in the prisons!)
  • Lack of coordination for continued care, such as procedures or surgeries, with providers outside of the prison
  • Unable to obtain medical records from the prison that sometimes claims that the files do not exist in spite of the patient’s history of medical care while incarcerated

These barriers and negligence put patients at risk of homelessness, recidivating, and even fatality. This lack of foresight leaves individuals–who are already entering an unfamiliar world–virtually empty-handed and with little assistance to successfully rebuild their lives. Doctor Niyogi and Wennerstrom’s findings make a strong case for the need to include transitional healthcare in re-entry programs. At the same time, it appears healthcare within prisons is less regulated and established than it ought to be (this will take further research on my part).

This seminar has reignited my interest in incarceration, alternatives, rehabilitation, and re-entry. By recommendation from fellow VISTA Shosh, I hope to learn more by attending a meeting with Voice of The Experienced (VOTE), a grassroots group working to educate and restore rights to incarcerated and formerly incarcerated persons. Coincidentally, the FIT Clinic is part of VOTE so I am even more excited to get involved!

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A giant Nike campaign for “Equality.” Nonetheless, how do we achieve equality in a system rooted in inequality?

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This entry was posted on February 10, 2017 by in VISTA Field Reports.

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