When Children's Health Matters

November-December 1998

Saint Anthony Hospital Aggressively Seeks Medicaid-Eligible Children

When it comes to enrolling children in Medicaid, Saint Anthony Hospital in Chicago has learned nothing beats face-to-face contact. In an effort to make sure children have access to healthcare, the hospital has organized an aggressive campaign of getting outreach workers into the community and preparing staff to help families fill out applications during hospital visits.

Part of Catholic Health Partners, Saint Anthony is a 184-bed facility in Little Village, a concentrated Mexican-American community on Chicago's west side. Many adults are working poor, sometimes holding down two low-paying jobs to make ends meet. Few have health insurance as an employee benefit. Many immigrants in this community are guarded about seeking healthcare.

The Big Picture
Saint Anthony's efforts are one part of a larger picture called Children's Health Matters, a nationwide initiative working to reduce the number of children — nearly 5 million — who qualify for Medicaid but remain unenrolled. The alliance was kicked off in 1997 by two St. Louis-based health systems — Carondelet Health System and Daughters of Charity National Health System — and Catholic Charities USA. With the national program in its second year, individual facilities are implementing action plans to reach enrollment goals for their communities. Systemwide, the Daughters' target is 30,000 children by June 30, while Carondelet's goal is 3,000 youngsters.

Saint Anthony, which belongs to the Daughters of Charity National Health System, began its push in March and hopes to sign up 300 to 500 children by the end of the first year, said Randy Autry, the hospital's director of business development. "By finding ways to reach kids who aren't insured, we can give them the preventive care they need and guarantee access to healthcare," he said.

Reaching The Community
To make the enrollment process easier, Saint Anthony received permission to become a state-designated outstation, which allows staff members to fill out applications for children and pregnant women during their hospital visits. They forward the paperwork to the local Department of Human Services, which determines eligibility. Saint Anthony also helps people through the appeals process if their requests are denied.

For parents and guardians, the convenience of filling out enrollment forms while they are already at the hospital is crucial, Autry said. Taking time off work — and sacrificing those lost wages — to make a special trip and fill out paperwork at another site is a luxury they cannot afford.

Saint Anthony's two full-time outreach workers network with community groups — including social service agencies, public schools, nonprofit organizations, and parishes — to find qualifying children. They schedule health fairs and informational sessions after Mass at parishes. They keep in close contact with numerous nonprofits set up to provide services to needy families, including health education, vocational training, welfare-to-work initiatives, protection from domestic violence, and HeadStart programs. Contact with these community-focused nonprofits has proven to be successful, Autry said.

Saint Anthony also had employees stationed at key schools during the Chicago public school's Report Card Pick-Up Day in early November. The outreach workers and another eight trained staff members met with parents coming in for report cards to help them sign up their children for Medicaid. Many families do not realize that while they are working and are not on welfare, their children may still be eligible for Medicaid coverage.

The Language Barrier
Autry said all of the outreach workers — the full-time staff and those who help out when needed — are fluent in Spanish, which helps to overcome one of the barriers in the enrollment process: The forms are printed only in English. The Illinois Department of Public Aid is working on a Spanish-language version and should be publishing it soon.

In another effort to break the language barrier, Saint Anthony has produced public service announcements to air on Spanish-speaking radio stations. The PSAs have been effective, and station managers have enthusiastically supported the drive.

Not every idea has worked. Saint Anthony tried to get the word out by distributing thousands of fliers at currency exchanges, where many parents cashed their paychecks. The fliers explained the enrollment process and urged people to call the hospital. Saint Anthony was disappointed with the low response, Autry said, but it underscored the need to deal with people directly rather than waiting for them to contact the hospital.

Growing The Alliance
Children's Health Matters is currently carried out in the District of Columbia and 21 states where the two systems operate health ministries. System leaders are hopeful other not-for-profit systems will become part of their alliance.

Michael W. Leathers

For more details on Saint Anthony's program, call Randy Autry at 773-521-1710, ext. 44835. For more information on Children's Health Matters, contact Patrick Cacchione, vice president of advocacy and communication at Carondelet Health System, at 314-770-0333 or the Children's Health Matters website. See also the Health Policy column.


Copyright © 1998 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

When Children's Health Matters

Copyright © 1998 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.