International Community Health Services (ICHS) and Children’s Alliance, a member of the Protecting Immigrant Rights – WA (PIF-WA) coalition, co-hosted a press conference on Sept. 25, at ICHS’s International District Clinic. A panel of representatives from health, legal and service organizations advocated against proposed changes to the definition of “public charge” that would deny green cards to legal immigrants if they access certain public benefits.
The draft regulation released on Sept. 22, targets a wide range of non-cash public assistance—including Medicaid, food stamps, Section 8 housing assistance and Medicare prescription drug assistance.
ICHS’s Nutrition Services Supervisor Aliya Haq joined representatives from the Seattle Office of Immigrant and Refugee Affairs, OneAmerica, King County Public Health, Northwest Harvest and the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project to emphasize the severe health and human costs should the regulation go into effect. Participants described how half a million Washingtonians could be pushed away from crucial health, nutrition and educational assistance – to far-reaching detriment.
Haq shared stories of ICHS patients who, out of fear of future reprisal, have already denied themselves or their family members benefits, describing the resulting health and human cost as “heartbreaking.”
The panel’s legal expert also shared a strong message that immigrants and their families should not dis-enroll from public benefits in response to the draft rule’s release. If the rule were to become final—which would take several months—immigrants would not be penalized for past enrollment.
The coalition is preparing for the draft’s pending publication in the federal register. Once published, members of the public will have 60 days to file comments in opposition to slow down or block the rule. ICHS and its partners will mobilize to encourage individuals to submit comments, as well as work within communities to ease fears and misperceptions, and ensure continued access to health programs and services.
The coalition emphasized in a press statement, “Above all, families who fear they may be affected by this rule should know they’re not alone, and that there’s time to fight back.”
On Sept. 27, Molina Healthcare of Washington Inc., honored Veronica Kim, who served as women’s preventive health services coordinator at International Community Health Services (ICHS) for 25 years, with the prestigious Community Champion Award. The award recognized Kim’s long-time contributions to level health disparities in breast, ovarian, cervical and colon cancer fatality rates among Asian Pacific Islander (API) and minority women.
Kim recently retired from ICHS in August, to pass the torch to an up-and-coming generation of health workers. Her impact upon King County’s women of color, and in particular the Asian American community, has been immeasurable. Her work formed the backbone of ICHS’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Health Program (BCCHP), which connected nearly 2,600 low income people with life-saving screenings and treatment in 2017. Kim also brought the Swedish Cancer Institute’s Mobile Mammography Program to ICHS in 2007 after discovering many women were not making it to their mammogram referrals. Bringing the mobile mammogram clinic onsite to ICHS locations reduced a number of challenges for immigrant and low income women, giving help with scheduling, and reducing transportation and language barriers.
“There is no appropriate value that can be assigned to Veronica’s work within the community,” said Teresita Batayola, ICHS CEO. “When women and their families are scared and uncertain, unsure of where to turn or whom to trust, she is the breast health expert, and social and health service resource, and pillar of Seattle’s broader Asian American community.”
Kim was an early pioneer in addressing minority health within Seattle’s Chinatown-International District, starting her career as a family health worker for ICHS in 1993, when the regional health center was still a small clinic in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. When the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered funding for a program to increase breast cancer screenings for API immigrant women, Veronica was tasked with enrollment – knocking on doors to make home visits, going to churches and community organizations, and patiently waiting at neighborhood venues and businesses to talk to women.
“Many health education materials did not exist in languages other than English in those early years,” said Rana Amini, ICHS health advocacy manager. “Veronica created a library of resources from scratch so the women portrayed in pamphlets reflected the age and ethnicity of her target audiences. She ensured the availability of translation, interpretation and accurate information to empower ICHS patients to make informed, life-saving decisions about their health.”
Veronica also established in-language health fairs for the Korean, Vietnamese and Chinese-speaking communities – bringing health services directly to people within their communities, at no cost. She enrolled women in health insurance and programs for those that could not afford it.
Her work also became deeply personal. When she became a cancer patient and survivor herself, she became even more aware of the challenges faced by those she had served.
“My own experience with breast cancer treatment inspired me to give the best case management possible,” said Kim. “I have been through every step so I know what our patients are thinking and feeling.”
“Veronica inspires us all to do better,” said Ron Chew, ICHS foundation director. “I know very few people who are as optimistic and compassionate as she is. She has a warm smile and kind words to offer those around her.”
Veronica has also been an annual participant and major organizer of ICHS’s fundraising team for the Susan G. Komen Puget Sound Race for the Cure. For more than 15 years, she inspired a high level of participation among ICHS staff.
“Veronica put her heart and soul into building our women’s program,” said Batayola. “She’s changed some women’s lives forever. Because of her, Susan G. Komen has funded us close to 20 years, and continued to fund ICHS’s breast health program beyond their normal five-year cycle. She is one of a kind and I hope she continues to walk with us at Race for the Cure.”
Veronica says she doesn’t plan to leave all of her commitments behind.
“I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to work with such a wonderful, dedicated and amazing group of people for the past 25 years. During my tenure at ICHS I have learned so much. ICHS will always be a special place for me,” said Kim. “I’m excited about what’s ahead and plan to spend some time traveling. I leave soon for a trip to Korea and Hawaii. But even after retirement I will continue to advocate for and work with women.”
From Aug. 12 to 18, International Community Health Services marked National Health Center Week with celebrations that honored our health care heroes and their role making affordable health care available to people, families and communities throughout the region. ICHS looked to the past, present and future with a roundup of events.
Washington state senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray issued statements in support of the federal grants.
“Community health centers play a critical role in making sure patients and families across Washington state, and across the country, have access to quality health care — which is why we need to make sure these centers have the resources they need,” said Senator Murray. “I’m glad we were able to reach a bipartisan agreement earlier this year to help community health centers support and enhance the great work they already do to make sure patients and families in all corners of our country have quality care within reach regardless of income, and I hope we can continue to build on that progress.”
“Community health centers provide essential health care for many of Washington’s most vulnerable patients and communities,” said Senator Cantwell. “Many children and families throughout our state rely on community health centers for primary care, dental care, mental health and addiction services, and other important health needs. I’m proud to support our community health centers, and I’m glad we have secured more resources to foster innovation and deliver high-value care to families throughout Washington state.”
International Community Health Services (ICHS) today announced it is among 1,352 community health centers nationally that have been selected for $125 million in federal awards from the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), an agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In issuing the grants, HRSA further recognized organizations exceeding national quality benchmarks as National Quality Leaders and those with the best overall clinical performance as Health Center Quality Leaders. ICHS was awarded both distinctions.
“ICHS’s consistently high quality care and outstanding clinical performance have earned a place of honor among Washington’s health centers. We have been named a Health Center Quality Leader every year since 2014, and a National Quality Leader in 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2018,” said Teresita Batayola, ICHS CEO. “These awards are based on overall patient health data as a result of our care. We are proud of this record of achievement. ICHS is an example of the exceptional value our nation’s system of community health centers routinely deliver, providing comprehensive care at significantly lower cost to millions of Americans.”
HRSA’s Quality Improvement grant awards promote continued improvements in expanding access to comprehensive care, improving care quality and outcomes, increasing comprehensive care delivery in a cost-effective way, addressing health disparities, advancing the use of health information technology, and delivering patient-centered care. ICHS’s exceptional results and standards in seven out of eight of these categories led to a grant award of $249,174.
“Being a quality leader means that ICHS patients are more likely to achieve desired health outcomes,” said Dr. Asqual Getaneh, ICHS medical director. “This points to the success our clinics are achieving across the life span from healthy pregnancies, well child care, and management of chronic conditions like diabetes. This grant will further ICHS’s efforts to widen access to high quality, affordable care among underserved communities and bring better health to greater numbers of the state’s residents.”
The award was announced at ICHS’s International District Clinic by Sharon Turner, U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s Region X administrator, during National Health Center Week, the annual celebration that highlights the critical role community health centers play in providing high-quality, affordable, primary health care.
“I commend ICHS for being recognized as a National Quality Leader,” said Turner. “It’s a pleasure to be here and to celebrate HRSA’s partnership with ICHS and community health centers across the nation in providing high-quality, affordable primary care.”
For a list of 2018 Quality Improvement Award recipients, visit: https://bphc.hrsa.gov/programopportunities/fundingopportunities/qualityimprovement/index.html.