One day in early March 2020, just as the pandemic was gaining momentum, sixth-grader Carolina Martinez-Nava was heading to the school cafeteria when she saw her sister coming down the stairs, looking for her. Arlene, an eighth grader, was crying. “She came and hugged me,” Carolina said. Students had been peering out windows all morning at the black smoke rising a few blocks from the school, in Bridgeport. But that still couldn’t prepare Carolina for her sister’s news that it was their family’s house that was burning.
When the pandemic began, LaVita King of Bridgeport worried about how she would continue to see her behavioral health therapist and primary care physician at Southwest Community Health Center. She lives close enough to walk to the federally qualified health center but didn’t feel comfortable leaving her home in those early days, let alone venturing into a medical office. But she’s been able to access care through phone and video chats. “For me, it’s been such a lifesaver, such a blessing,” said King, 69. “Otherwise, I would not have been able to talk to my behavioral health therapist for this whole entire time.
Weeks into staying home from preschool, Betty, 4, threw herself on the floor and had a screaming meltdown. She had had a Zoom meeting with her class earlier that day, and every little thing was setting her off. “We don’t accept screaming in our house,” said Betty’s mother, Laura Bower-Phipps, professor and coordinator of elementary education at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven. “So, we counted the screams, and when she hit three, my wife and I told her she needed to take a break for four minutes.” Betty took the break, came back and screamed three more times, and again went to her quiet spot for another four minutes. And so, it went on.
Community health centers that provide medical care to 400,000 low-income patients throughout the state are adapting to the coronavirus pandemic by shifting to telemedicine and reconfiguring the way the staff is offering in-person health services. But like many hospitals and businesses throughout the state, they are also facing deep financial losses during the public health emergency. Nevertheless, they continue to provide frontline medical services—from essential wellness checks such as childhood immunizations to COVID-19 screenings, officials said. “They are the frontline helping patients get to the right place at the right time during this very difficult circumstance,” said Ken Lalime, chief executive officer of the Cheshire-based Community Health Center Association of Connecticut. “It’s what they do all the time, but during this crisis, it becomes incredibly important.”
A network of community health centers throughout the state provides health care for about 11% of the state’s population by offering services on a sliding scale for those who don’t have insurance and by accepting Medicaid, Lalime said.
New Haven resident Kimberly Streater was pregnant with her third of six children when she called her friend for a ride to the hospital after sustaining a hit to her stomach by her then-husband. When she reached the hospital, Streater, not yet 28 weeks pregnant, alerted personnel that her baby was coming—now. “They said, ‘No, no, he’s not coming,’ after I told them he was,” she recalled. Minutes later, Howie was born at 3 pounds and 1.5 ounces in the admitting area of the hospital, just as Streater had predicted. Statistically, the preterm birth of Streater’s baby does not come as a surprise.
Federally Qualified Community Health Centers (FQHCs) in Connecticut have expanded services, upped their staffing and renovated their facilities mostly due to increased revenue streams from the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Connecticut and the 30 other states that opted for the ACA Medicaid expansion program have benefitted from billions of dollars in additional core grant funding, with Connecticut receiving $150.7 million from 2011 to 2016, according to a January report by the Congressional Research Service. Health centers in Connecticut used some of that funding to hire professionals to enroll thousands of residents in health insurance—residents who were previously uninsured and used the centers for their health care. Now the centers are serving about 70,000 more insured patients, mostly covered by Husky Health plans. The cost of treating uninsured patients has declined by about $10 million since 2012, according to Deb Polun, director of government affairs and media relations at the Community Health Center Association of Connecticut.
Connecticut doctors and health care workers are battling childhood obesity by helping low-income families make healthier food choices, and coaching busy parents on fast but healthy ways to feed their children. Children are more likely to be obese if they grow up in low-income families, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. And when parents work long hours at low-wage jobs, that can contribute to childhood obesity as well, according to health experts, because time-squeezed parents struggle to provide home-cooked meals and family activities. Colleen Shaddox explores how teens in New Britain learn how to make healthy food choices. The CDC defines obesity as “having excess body fat,” and says it is affected by genetic, behavioral and environmental factors.
In Connecticut, a pregnant woman of color is more likely to lose her infant at birth than is a pregnant white woman. A woman of color is less likely to receive adequate prenatal care in Connecticut, and – if she carries to term — more likely to give birth to a low-weight baby, according to a March report from the state Department of Public Health. The state’s racial divide reaches all the way into the womb. A recent report from the Center for Reproductive Rights and other agencies paints a stark picture of racial disparities nationwide, particularly in reproductive care. Women of color are far less likely to have insurance.