Just The Beginning by Kerra Henkin

Partaking in a year of service is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I serve as a Patient Navigator/Community Health Educator with the Pennsylvania Health Access Network. PHAN is a nonprofit organization that is focused on making our health care system more affordable and accessible for all Pennsylvanians. The majority of my service involves assisting clients with navigating care access through enrolling them in health care coverage, solving any issues they have with their medical benefits, and aiding in the resolution of problems with their care. A smaller portion of my service includes supporting a patient activation program called ‘Know Your Rights’. This is a campaign that involves explaining health coverage, its benefits, and the consumer’s rights through presentations to different groups of people throughout the city of Philadelphia. I have been serving at my host site for a little over two months now and although I still have a lot to learn, I am finally settling into my position and duties.

Within the first few days of starting service at my host site I was assigned a project that had a goal of improving Medicaid for a specific county. I called people we had helped in the past and heard their stories of what worked and didn’t work with their health care. The majority of the people I interviewed spoke with immense gratitude for the organization of PHAN and the individual navigators who helped them. One of the pivotal moments for me during these interviews was speaking with the mother of a son we helped a few months earlier. He had recently moved to Philadelphia due to a fatal health concern and was having trouble getting health coverage. One of my colleagues was able to get him Medicaid in a matter of days which allowed him to get a surgery that saved his life. His mother exclaimed on the phone “she saved my son’s life; I cannot thank her enough”. I told my colleague this story and she mentioned that she had no idea the gravity of the situation - she was just doing her job. This is simply one of many inspiring moments I’ve witnessed thus far in my service term.

Still, there are many times I have felt helpless because someone is a few dollars over a cutoff for an insurance or has missed open enrollment period and is sick; and every time I dread telling them that unfortunately, there isn’t much I can do to help. We talked a lot about this feeling of helplessness during our pre service orientation (PSO). We discussed some situations we may encounter with people who need more help than we can give. For example, maybe someone comes to me needing money for rent, health insurance, and their electricity has recently been shut off. As much as I would love to take them on a shopping spree at Trader Joes, the most I can do in that moment is enroll them in medical benefits and refer out.

While we can’t solve all of the problems in Philadelphia, within my first few months of serving I have already witnessed colleagues and fellow service members making a positive impact in people’s lives. Whether it’s expediting a Medicaid application so someone can get a life saving surgery or educating someone about their dental benefits, I am really excited to see what the rest of this service year has to offer.