Support the Café

Search our Site

Healing a broken health system

Healing a broken health system


by Brian Sasser

Mosquito bites. They’re not usually considered a serious medical issue, but when a toddler named Dee walked in to a clinic in Austin covered with them, it ended up being a sign of much more.

EHF Dee's Story photo 1Dee’s story begins in an exam room at People’s Community Clinic. After doctors and nurses treated her repeat mosquito bites with creams and medicine, they made the effort to ask a simple question – why does she keep getting the bug bites?

Turns out, Dee’s family said mosquitos were getting into their apartment because the broken air conditioner meant they had to open the windows. The landlord had declined to install screens. Dee’s family was undocumented, so they didn’t want to complain.

Hope for Dee and her family came through a program called the Austin Medical-Legal Partnership. It’s a group that stations lawyers inside the clinic to work with patients’ legal issues, like housing and employment problems that end up having a dramatic effect on their health.

After intervention by Partnership attorneys, the landlord allowed Dee’s family to break their apartment lease and find a healthier place to live.

“No amount of creams or steroids were going to remedy the health issues and Dee’s treatment wasn’t going to be effective until we took care of the root cause,” said attorney Keegan Warren-Clem, legal champion for the Partnership.

Dee’s story is a clear example of how addressing root causes of medical problems – outside of a clinic — can improve the health of an entire family.

Dee’s story is also a prime example of why our health system is broken and what’s needed to help fix it.

It’s clear that issues like housing, employment, poverty, transportation and education have a great influence on a family’s health status, but almost all of our money is spent on health care, not health.

The U.S. spends $2.9 trillion a year on health care (18 percent of all goods and services produced across the country). That’s much more than any other nation spends on health care. When it comes to spending money on social services like poverty, housing and education, the U.S. ranks below most developed countries in the world.

What’s the real result for families in the U.S.? Despite massive spending on health care, we also have the lowest life expectancy and highest rate of infant mortality of those developed countries.

It’s Raymond, a 45-year-old man who is schizophrenic and doesn’t know how to get help. It’s Maris, a senior who can’t drive to a health clinic.  It’s Mark, a third-grader who still struggles to read. It’s the Casey family of six, who doesn’t have health insurance. It’s Dee, a toddler who gets infected mosquito bites over and over because a landlord won’t fix the air conditioner.

If we don’t address the root causes of poor health, clinic visits alone won’t be able to make a difference. Overall community health will continue to decline and vulnerable, low-income families will continue to suffer more than anyone else.

These critical needs are why the Episcopal Health Foundation (EHF) was created. They are the reason we’re working so hard to be a new voice for health in Texas by creating a transformative culture to address those needs. Filling the gap in community health across the state is not our goal. We aim to close it.

Our grant investments fund organizations and programs that work “upstream” to focus on new and different ways to provide preventive health services, not just “after-the-fact” medical care.

We fund clinics that make home visits to asthmatic children to identify and remediate their particular environmental triggers. We’re supporting a pilot, school-based telemedicine program connecting rural students with primary care doctors. We’re helping to expand a groundbreaking project that’s improving the health of frequent ER patients by coordinating social services and medical care outside of the ER – all while drastically reducing costs to the health care system.

Along with these grants, we work with 153 churches across the Episcopal Diocese of Texas to establish, improve and expand community health outreach by congregations. We help them better understand their own community health needs and provide training focused on crucial issues like mental health and access to health services. Congregations are working to connect with their larger communities to begin building positive changes to improve health.

We’re convinced that simply building more clinics to serve more people won’t heal a broken health system. We’re focused on long-lasting improvements that truly transform community health. We see every grant, program, research project and church endeavor as chapters in our story of change. Each is unique. And not every chapter will tell a story of success every time.

But as Dee’s family learned, even a small effort to heal a broken system is a great place to start.


See a video of Dee’s story here



Brian Sasser is the Episcopal Health Foundation’s Director of Communications


Café Comments?

Our comment policy requires that you use your real first and last names and provide an email address (your email will not be published). Comments that use non-PG rated language, include personal attacks, that are not provable as fact or that we deem in any way to be counter to our mission of fostering respectful dialogue will not be posted.

1 Comment
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Marshall Scott

Some time ago I added this post about my count (admittedly rough) of health ministries associated with entities in the Episcopal Church (dioceses, congregations, orders, etc.) Things have changed, and I haven’t done a more recent count. In the Diocese of Texas, for example, the Diocese sold its associated hospital system, and has used the resources to increase access to primary care. I’m sure there are other changes as well (and I’m sure we’d be interested to hear about them here). Still, with all the changes, the Episcopal Church is certainly involved in supporting health care directly and in our communities.

Support the Café
Past Posts

The Episcopal Café seeks to be an independent voice, reporting and reflecting on the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition.  The Café is not a platform of advocacy, but it does aim to tell the story of the church from the perspective of Progressive Christianity.  Our collective sympathy, as the Café, lies with the project of widening the circle of inclusion within the church and empowering all the baptized for the role to which they have been called as followers of Christ.

The opinions expressed at the Café are those of individual contributors, and, unless otherwise noted, should not be interpreted as official statements of a parish, diocese or other organization. The art and articles that appear here remain the property of their creators.

All Content  © 2017 Episcopal Café