New Haven Community Health Worker (CHW) Katia Astudillo helps dozens of her clients navigate the logistics of getting vaccinated and connects them with other health services. She even helps them find rental assistance. In and around New London, CHW Lizbeth Polo-Smith hands out flyers about COVID-19 safety and vaccinations at churches, laundromats, stores, warming centers for the homeless—anywhere she can. As COVID-19 laid bare Connecticut’s health care deserts, it now highlights the efforts of CHWs who labored in forgotten neighborhoods for years. In many ways, they have become a key factor in the state’s public health response for marginalized communities during the pandemic.
Vyanne Dinh, 21, a senior at New York University, will be paying close attention next month when the U.S. Supreme Court hears arguments in a lawsuit backed by the Trump administration to overturn the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Thanks to the ACA, the law known as Obamacare, a provision allows young adults to remain on their parents’ health insurance policies until age 26. Dinh, of South Windsor, is covered on her mother’s policy. “If I lost coverage under my parents, I would not know what to do,” Dinh said. “Chances are I would have to handle medical expenses out of pocket, which would definitely cause a financial strain and make me hesitant to go to the doctor’s unless it is a dire emergency.”
“I am also worried about COVID because the risks are too high under current circumstances to be uninsured,” said Dinh.
Soon after Minerva Cuapio, a 48-year-old Mexican immigrant who lives in New Haven, was laid off from her job at a dry cleaner in March, she developed a headache, an itchy throat and a dry cough. Then came the shortness of breath that really worried her daughter, Izarelli Mendieta, 29, of New Haven. While trying to get her mother care, she said, they were bounced from a doctor to the state’s COVID-19 hotline to a telemedicine visit back to the hotline and then to a drive-through testing center and an emergency room visit. The family waited nine days for Cuapio’s positive test results. Izarelli’s father, Pedro Mendieta, 55, who lost a foot to diabetes, tested positive, too, but had mild symptoms.
Minerva Cuapio and Pedro Mendieta have recovered, but their daughter, who translates for her parents because they only speak Spanish, said if she could meet Gov. Ned Lamont, she would ask him to make the process easier for families like hers.
The racial disparity between white and black cancer patients in accessing timely treatments has virtually disappeared in states where Medicaid expanded under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), according to a new study. Yale Cancer Center researchers analyzed more than 30,000 health records and found that, prior to Medicaid expansion, black adults with advanced or metastatic cancer were 4.8 percentage points less likely than white adults to begin treatments within 30 days of being diagnosed. But in states where Medicaid was expanded, in 2014 or later, the percentage of black patients getting timely treatment rose from 43.5 percent to 49.6 percent. There also was a small improvement in expansion states among white patients receiving timely treatment – from 48.3 percent to 50.3 percent – bringing the post-expansion difference between the two racial groups to less than one percentage point. “Our results suggest that Medicaid expansion led to improved health equity,” said study author Amy Davidoff, a senior research scientist at Yale School of Public Health and in Yale Cancer Center’s Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy, and Effectiveness Research Center (COPPER).
It’s a summer afternoon and parents with their young children have gathered to hear what a nutritionist with Women, Infants and Children (WIC) has to offer. They watch with intrigue as Mary Paige demonstrates how to make yogurt dots from frozen Greek yogurt and French fries from roasted parsnips and carrots. After a 10-minute demo in the WIC office at Yale New Haven Hospital’s Primary Care Center, Stephany Uriostegui of West Haven is sold. She can’t wait to try the recipes at home for her 10-month-old son and 5- and 7-year-old daughters. “I always buy the [yogurt dots] from Walmart,” she said.
Iasiah Brown, 25, of New Haven, said he does not see a need for a primary care doctor for himself and his daughter, opting to visit clinics in the area instead of waiting up to two weeks for an appointment at a doctor’s office. Brown is among the 83 people who said they didn’t have a primary care doctor in response to a health-care usage survey by the Conn. Health I-Team and Southern Connecticut State University. The team surveyed 500 people and interviewed dozens statewide between January and March. About 83 percent of respondents said they had a primary care doctor, but the rate was lower for African American (78 percent) and Hispanic respondents (75 percent).
Once a week, every week, the health center at Stamford High School offers sophomore Roger Sanchez an oasis—someplace he can talk to a trusted adult about life’s pressures and problems, a place he feels free and unjudged. School work, sports commitments, family and social obligations: life as a teenager can be stressful, he says. If it weren’t for the health center, conveniently located where he spends most of his days, he would have a much harder time accessing counseling sessions that help him cope with anxiety. “The health center helps me out academically, emotionally and physically,” he said, and he recommends it to friends. “They get nervous, kind of, but I try my best to get them to come in.
A few years ago, patient navigators at Project Access-New Haven set out to see if they could change the course of health care treatment for some Medicaid patients who frequently used emergency rooms.
They contacted emergency departments at Yale New Haven Hospital and its Saint Raphael campus and enrolled 100 patients in their study in 2013. Those selected had visited emergency rooms four to 18 times in the past year for chest pain, abdominal pain or chronic migraines, among other ailments. The navigators at Project Access coordinated health care for the patients. They scheduled appointments with primary care physicians, provided reminders, accompanied patients to physician visits and followed up to ensure compliance with the prescribed treatment. The preliminary results were eye-opening: “We saw an average cost reduction of $153 per member per month,” said Dr. Roberta Capp, assistant professor, Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Colorado Denver, and lead investigator of the study.
Connecticut has seen significant reductions in deaths from breast and colon cancer in the last three decades, but the state exceeds the national mortality rate for uterine cancer and three other cancers, as well as for mental health and substance use disorders. An analysis of data compiled by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, published in JAMA, also shows wide disparities between Connecticut counties in death rates from certain cancers and other illnesses. Windham County had the highest mortality rates for seven of 10 cancers identified in the study as having the highest disease burden or responsiveness to screening and treatment, including pancreatic, uterine and lung cancer. Tolland County, meanwhile, had the lowest death rates for five cancers, including breast cancer, while Fairfield County was lowest for four. Similarly, deaths from chronic respiratory diseases in Windham County were nearly double the rate in Fairfield County – 63.13 per 100,000, compared to 34.15.
In 2015, the Rev. Nancy Butler, the charismatic founder of Glastonbury’s Riverfront Family Church who died earlier this month, was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Neither the advanced degrees she and her husband, Gregory B. Butler, earned nor his experience as a corporate lawyer prepared them for the complexities of the health care system. “My wife gets sick and I don’t have a clue how to navigate,” Greg Butler said. “This stuff is enormously complicated. What does your insurance cover?