Filipino health care leader retires after three decades of community service

Sefie and Jennifer Cabiao

Sefie Cabiao, a tireless and passionate advocate for Filipino American seniors in Seattle for over three decades, officially retired from her job at International Community Health Services (ICHS) on March 24, 2017.

Cabiao, employed as an ICHS community advocate, was a steadfast figure at events at the Filipino Community Center and at various health fairs and community forums across the city. She helped educate Filipino immigrants and families about issues such as diabetes awareness, breast and cervical health screening, nutrition, exercise and voter registration. Her fluency in Ilocano and Tagalog allowed her to build bridges between the community and the non-profit realm in which she worked.

“Sefie is one big heart in her love for the Filipino community and ICHS,” Teresita Batayola, ICHS CEO, said. “Add her tenacity and her commitment to that heart and you can immediately feel the huge hole caused by her retirement.  We are forever grateful knowing she will always be in the community connecting others to ICHS.”

ICHS community advocate Angela Wan, who has worked alongside Cabiao for 12 years, is sad to see her go, but noted that Cabiao would remain part of the ICHS family. “She is so beloved because of her kindness and willingness to reach out to help people,” Wan said. “Everyone in the Filipino community knows her.”

It was not uncommon for strangers to recognize Cabiao, even on flights to the Philippines. “One time, when I was in the air, someone tapped my bag,” Cabiao said. “This person said, ‘I see you’re here. I’ve been looking for you for a month.” This person had been seeking help with medical insurance.

Prior to joining ICHS, Cabiao was employed at the International District Housing Alliance, working with seniors in need of housing, health care and help in domestic violence situations. During that era, many old hotels in the International District were substandard. “When we went to check on the Filipino manongs, we would open the door and the cockroaches are flying everywhere,” she recalled. “The residents were frail and sick. They didn’t have relatives here either. We would check their refrigerators and make sure they were getting food and proper medical attention.”

Cabiao left the Housing Alliance during a funding shortfall. She said she was hired by ICHS in March, 1998 as a community outreach worker, working with the elderly. “When I first came here, I see that there is a gap between the higher level staff and the community advocates,” she said. “In the beginning, I did not even have a desk. I had to share a space at a work table. Now, as I leave ICHS, things have improved. I’m happy to leave because I can see a kind of family unity between the different levels of ICHS.”

Even in retirement, Cabiao will remain close to the ICHS family. Her daughter, Jennifer, works as ICHS contracts coordinator. Jennifer joined the agency in 2005 after she was asked by her mom to help fill a temporary administrative position.

“I thought I was going to be here for three months,” Jennifer said. “Three months turned into a year. A year has turned into 12 years.”

Has the retirement of her mother from ICHS affected Jennifer?

“Since we worked in separate departments, it really doesn’t make much of a difference,” Jennifer said. “My mom is still going to be out in the community. So just because she’s retiring, it doesn’t mean she’s retiring from everything else she does.”

Any favorite stories about her mother?

“Oh, there’s one,” Jennifer said. “About four or five years ago, she got stuck in the elevator in the ID clinic during a blackout. She panicked and called me on her cell phone. Good thing she had her phone with her—because she usually doesn’t. I said, ‘What’s going on? Where are you?’ She said, ‘I’m stuck in the elevator and it’s all dark.’ I told her to just hold on because the fire department was coming. She has a tendency to exaggerate and she said, ‘It’s getting so hot. I can’t breathe.’ Everyone told her, ‘Sefie, just stay put. Don’t panic.’ Eventually, she got out after an hour. I had gone back to my desk to work. It was a very busy day. I thought that was pretty funny.”

WIC patients ‘fill their plates’ for good nutrition

ICHS’ Women, Infant and Children’s (WIC) program joined Nutrition First, Washington state’s WIC association, to support healthy women and children in a Paper Plate campaign.

Patients used paper plates to create a colorful feast for the eyes and strong supportive messages about WIC – drawing pictures of favorite foods and writing in many different languages.

See their creativity and artwork here. 

ICHS ID clinic welcomes Senator Maria Cantwell for health care roundtable

From left: ICHS community advocate Aleks Poseukova, ICHS patient Grigory Vodolazov, ICHS director of health services and community partnerships, Senator Maria Cantwell, and ICHS Foundation director Ron Chew


On February 23, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell hosted a 90-minute health care roundtable at International Community Health Services (ICHS) to hear testimony about the impact of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and to listen to concerns about looming changes to the health care law.

During the wide-ranging and sometimes emotional discussion at the ICHS clinic in the International District, over a dozen local health care providers, advocates and Medicaid patients weighed in by sharing statistics and personal stories about how the Medicaid expansion has dramatically improved the quality of life for local residents, especially those who had previously been shut out of the health care system.

The speakers included representatives from the University of Washington Harborview Medical Center, Washington Association of Community and Migrant Health Centers, Disability Rights Washington, AARP Washington, Planned Parenthood, King County Community and Human Services Division, and King County NAACP.

Representing ICHS at the roundtable were Michael McKee, director of health services and community partnerships, and ICHS patient Grigory Vodolazov, a Russian immigrant with two children on Medicaid, including one with special needs.

During the roundtable, Cantwell noted that more than 600,000 people have gained access to care through the expansion of Medicaid, including 147,250 in King County. Over 432,000 people in King County are covered through Medicaid.

Cantwell cautioned that converting federal funds for Medicaid into block grants to the states could lead to an erosion of health care coverage for millions of low-income patients in the U.S., an increased burden on hospitals to provide costly emergency care and worse health outcomes. She vowed to return to Washington D.C. to fight for retention of expanded health care coverage and champion true health care innovation.

ICHS raises $31,000 to support charity care at Lunar New Year 5k in Shoreline

Over 260 individuals braved the snow and the freezing cold to participate in the second annual Lunar New Year 5k in Shoreline on Sunday, February 26, raising over $31,000 to support health care for needy patients at International Community Health Services (ICHS).

“We were pleasantly surprised by the turnout, given the awful weather conditions,” Ron Chew, ICHS Foundation director said. “Over 340 people registered, so we did have no-shows, but not as many as we expected. The participants were spirited and very supportive. Best of all, we exceeded our fundraising goal.”

See the list of the 2017 Lunar New Year 5K sponsors.

In 2016, ICHS hosted the first ever Lunar New Year 5k at the Mercer Slough Nature Park in Bellevue. This year’s event featured an out-and-back course on the Interurban Trail in Shoreline.

Many participants at Sunday’s event wore “Super Al” superhero capes in honor of the late Al Sugiyama, a beloved community leader who passed away in January after a fierce battle with cancer. Sugiyama, who participated in the Bellevue 5k, had planned to join in this year event, too. His two daughters and other family members walked in his stead.

Shoreline Mayor Chris Roberts kicked off the event with welcoming remarks, lauding the diversity of his city. The Mak Fai Kung Fu Club performed a Chinese lion dance to welcome the Year of the Rooster.

The Silver Striders, a state-wide organization of runners and walkers aged 50 and older, sponsored the event as part of its Grand Prix series. Six of the top 10 finishers were Silver Striders, including 53-year old Brig Seidl, the first place winner who completed the 5k in a time of 18:55.

ICHS was established in 1973 as a free storefront clinic in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, providing bilingual health care to low-income residents. The agency now offers services through its seven locations, including new clinics in Bellevue and Shoreline. Last year, ICHS served over 28,300 unduplicated patients and provided interpretation in 53 languages.

Last year, ICHS provided $1.2 million in charity care. Proceeds from the Shoreline 5k will go toward supporting care for these patients in need.

“So many low-income immigrants and refugees rely on ICHS as their lifeline,” Chew said. “Supporting these patients and celebrating the New Year with a healthy, family-friendly winter activity was the vision behind our event.”

The 37,000 sq. ft. ICHS Shoreline medical-dental clinic is located at 16549 Aurora Ave. N. The new three-story facility opened in September, 2014 as the first non-profit community health center in Shoreline. Last September, the clinic started a Young Adult Clinic. Last month, a new pharmacy opened on the first floor.

Check out photos of the Lunar New Year 5K on the ICHS Facebook page

See the race results for the 2017 Lunar New Year 5K

Make a donation to support patient care at ICHS

ICHS Co-presented the Film Painted Nails

Left to right: Mickey Kander, Uyenvy Pham, Michael McKee, Minh Nguyen Wichman, Mariko Toyoji and Gildas Cheung.

On February 25th, ICHS staff and board members had a great time co-presenting the film Painted Nails at the Seattle Asian American Film Festival.

Minh Nguyen Wichman speaking with Painted Nails director Dianne Griffin.

At the festival, ICHS Community Advocate Minh Nguyen Wichman took the opportunity to talk to the director about her powerful film.

Summary of the film Painted Nails
Painted Nails is a documentary following Van, a Vietnamese nail salon worker who discovers her health problems, are the result of chemicals in the products used in her salon and courageously becomes involved in the fight for safe cosmetics. The film follows her transformation from a self-described shy woman to a forthright advocate who testifies before Congress to protect the health of her family and community.

The documentary is an important portrayal of the intersection of public health, worker safety, women’s health and political advocacy.

To learn more about the film Painted Nails, visit:

ICHS CFO Hermes Shahbazian named one of the region’s top CFOs by Puget Sound Business Journal


The Puget Sound Business Journal will honor ICHS CFO Hermes Shahbazian during their annual “CFO of the Year” celebration on March 9th. The event recognizes the top CFOs in the region and their contributions to the local economy and community. Hermes received the award in the large nonprofit organization category.

Hermes’ work at ICHS for the last 22 years was pivotal in transforming the organization from a small storefront clinic into a regional health care provider with four full-service medical-dental clinics and three additional service sites. He created systems to bill appropriately for reimbursements, led initiatives to earn performance and quality incentives, made smart investments in infrastructure and staffing, and fought for every cent of revenue owed to ICHS.

“I am honored and humbled by the selection and would like to commend the ICHS finance team members for our continued success,” said Hermes.

Keep our community’s health within reach | Rana Amini

Over the past three years, since Medicaid coverage was expanded in our state to provide insurance to an additional 600,000 people, I have seen lives and communities transformed. These include our Eastside communities. This coverage has brought greater health, peace of mind, and more possibilities for those who’ve gained it as a result of the Affordable Care Act and our state’s bipartisan decision to expand Medicaid. We have been able to come so far and achieve better health access for many and now we must not move backwards.

Expanded insurance coverage has enabled community health centers to provide more comprehensive primary care, including wellness exams, chronic disease management and dental care. The potential loss of Medicaid coverage has caused a lot of anxiety among our patients. We are hearing our patients’ concerns on a regular basis regarding losing health care for their children, as well as themselves. Nothing is worse than seeing your loved ones in pain and distress, and that is why maintaining Medicaid coverage is so important.

Support to maintain coverage and care for our low-income and vulnerable residents must happen at both the federal and state level. Washington state has long been a leader in improving access to care. And our state is stronger because of it. We must maintain the bi-partisan support that has created these opportunities and successes and protect the safety net.

There’s also work to be done to improve health care access because insurance coverage doesn’t always guarantee you can get care. Two areas in particular create barriers to care – a serious shortage of providers for underserved communities and not enough dental clinics to meet tremendous demand.

To attract more providers to serve patients with complex needs at community health centers and other settings, we have a proven solution in the Health Professional Loan Repayment Program. Two years ago the Legislature wisely re-invested in the program after years of major cuts. Last year behavioral health specialists, who are critical in enabling us to treat the whole person, were included in the program for the first time. But only 40 percent of the people who applied received awards last year, even before a whole new category of providers was added. Our health center has 12 medical providers and seven dentists who are potentially eligible for loan repayment but aren’t able to get it. Loan repayment programs help community health centers recruit and retain quality health care providers. Across the state, community health centers are asking for a $9 million increase to the program to ensure more communities can get care.

The shortage of dental clinics across the state has created a real crisis for people’s oral health. Only one in five Medicaid patients received dental care last year as a result. Oral health problems negatively impact employability for adults, learning and school attendance for children, and management of chronic disease. International Community Health Services has nearly tripled the number of dental chairs throughout its clinics, including adding 10 dental chairs in the Bellevue Medical and Dental Clinic in May 2014, and all clinics are already at capacity. Community health centers have plans for dozens of new and expanded dental clinics across the state. An additional investment from the state legislature can make them a reality, bringing oral health to tens of thousands more people.

Giving people insurance coverage and access to health care shouldn’t be political. It should just be common sense and a right.

Redmond resident Rana Amini is a health advocacy manager for International Community Health Services (ICHS), a nonprofit community health center that offers affordable health care services to King County’s Asian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander communities, and the broader community. ICHS provides primary care services including medical, dental, and behavioral health at seven locations, including Bellevue.

Link to Redmond Reporter: