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Local Wisdom Key to LISC’s ACA Outreach

“Let’s just work together and keep talking.”

It was more after-thought than motto, but Dominique Williams’ final instruction to a recent gathering of community-based counselors captured in a nutshell how LISC Chicago is working to make a local success of national healthcare reform.

Larry Dixon, of the Lawndale Christian Development Corp., uses old-fashioned shoe leather to get the word out at the Pulaski Pink Line station about the benefits of the Affordable Care Act.

Gordon Walek

There is no historical model, no proven template – no precedent, really – for this fall’s nationwide effort to enroll millions of uninsured Americans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), widely nicknamed “Obamacare.”

There are, however, lots of rules. The 906-page federal law is full of them. So is the procedure manual for “Get Covered Illinois,” the state’s online insurance marketplace that opened for business October 1st at

So a lot of what Williams explained at a Sept. 26th workshop for some 30 “In-Person Counselors” – many accompanied by senior staff from LISC–affiliated neighborhood groups – had to do with rules compliance. Compliance, especially, with terms of the $1.35 million state grant LISC Chicago has received to deploy its grassroots network to educate and enroll thousands of uninsured residents in 24 of Chicago’s most challenged neighborhoods.

At meeting’s end, the newly-hired In-Person Counselors, or IPCs, were issued an instructional ring binder, a batch of hand-out brochures, a digital tablet for recording client contacts and enrollments and a shoulder bag to carry that and other paraphernalia. They also got briefed on software they’ll use for reporting and enrolling – software with names like ETO and Wufoo.

But some of the most important information taken away surely was the tips they shared with one another. And therein lies the big advantage – the unique “value add” – that LISC’s neighborhood network brings to the ACA effort. Sure there are technical matters to be mastered. But just as important are the insights of seasoned community organizers about how to reach the hard-to-reach in Chicago’s poorest neighborhoods.

Best practices

Here’s a sampling of five “best practices” shared at the meeting – the kind not always found in instruction manuals:

In addition to working the el stops, Larry Dixon has been getting on the agendas of other community organizations, including this meeting of the North Lawndale Employment Network, to discuss the new health care law.

Gordon Walek

Use agency strengths – Once trained and certified, an In-Person Counselor (IPC) is able to enroll a qualified family “in the field.” Yet Williams, LISC Chicago’s program officer, urged the gathered IPCs instead to refer eligibles to a LISC-affiliated Center for Working Families. CWFs are better equipped to handle the volume and complexity of applications, she explained, freeing the IPCs to focus on reaching and referring more potential applicants.

Get info online – One of the best places on the Web for solid information about ACA in Illinois, including user-friendly data tool, is according to Lubia Nunez-Montelongo of the Instituto del Progreso Latino.

Think wholesale – With so many uninsured and so few IPCs to reach them, Maggie Perales of the Southwest Organizing Project suggested it’s far more efficient to work with existing community networks, such as faith-based organizations. They can convene informational gatherings and provide lists of potential enrollees.

Tap family networks – “Nearly everyone has family, friends and relatives who are challenged because they don’t have health insurance,” reminded Tracie Worthy of the Lawndale Christian Development Corp. Use the trust and credibility of family to reach additional residents in need of assistance.

Involve private business – IPCs also can reach out to small businesses now eligible to buy affordable group insurance for employees, said Mike Tomas of the Garfield Park Community Council. And if a business owner isn’t able to provide coverage to their employees, they can still seek IPC support to help educate employees on ACA and their individual health coverage options.

Beyond insurance

Before they began sharing these ideas, and dozens more, the fledgling IPCs heard Susana Vasquez, LISC Chicago’s executive director, put the entire ACA effort into a larger context.

“This is more than a grant,” said Vasquez of the $1.35 million from the Illinois Department of Public Health. “Our ultimate goal is not about getting people health insurance … it’s about getting folks in your neighborhood healthier.”

LISC Chicago's Dominique Williams, second from left, with neighborhood counselors as they prepare to inform neighborhood residents of the Affordable Care Act.

Vincent Edmunds

She explained that insurance coverage, while important, is but a part of the Healthy Communities Campaign launched two years ago by LISC Chicago and its neighborhood network. The Campaign aims to build health leaders within neighborhoods who can promote and sustain a dialogue around health. 

But the ACA work “does bring together everything we’ve been working on for over a decade,” she said. Ultimately, it’s LISC’s local partners that guide and implement the work, utilizing their own local networks and partnerships.

Central to the effort, said Vasquez, are the LISC-funded Centers for Working Families. They’ll serve as insurance application centers, but their trained counselors can also explore a family’s other needs, from credit score enhancement to nutrition assistance. This comprehensive approach to neighborhood health, she said, is a central theme of LISC Chicago’s recently-launched fundraising effort, the Campaign for Stronger Neighborhoods.

“Our mission is simple,” said Vasquez: “Connect neighborhoods to the resources they need to become stronger and healthier. That’s an ambitious goal. But we know you can do it.” 

More information: LISC’s Dominique Williams, 312-422-9571             


Posted in Health, North Lawndale


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