In May, I had the opportunity to spend some time in northern Philadelphia with our state and community partners, Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN) and Why Not Prosper (WNP). As part of our Partnering for Community Health project, we are building relationships and finding opportunities to support women in reentry as they navigate access to health care coverage including the urgent and critical substance-use-disorder services and supports the women need as they re-integrate into their communities. As we enter year two of this project, we are reflecting on lessons learned from the first year, and we are energized about the opportunities for change that lie ahead.

Over the past year, WNP and PHAN focused their advocacy on ensuring women have swift access to Medicaid coverage when they reenter the community. Pennsylvania altered its policy on in 2016 to suspend Medicaid for people incarcerated for less than 2 years. People incarcerated for more than two years would need to reapply for benefits upon release. Implementing the change, however, is not always smooth. The Medicaid “restart” is falling short for many women, who need access to substance use treatment and other chronic conditions, leaving them in limbo for days and weeks,. Over the past year, Why Not Prosper and PHAN have worked collaboratively to identify the barriers to seamless Medicaid coverage and are building a new constituency of cross-sector stakeholders, including service providers, health advocates, community health workers and local jail and prison administrators, to ensure women get the health care they need when they need it.

Some key lessons from the first year of this community-state advocacy collaboration include:

  • If you feed them, they will come. PHAN and Why Not Prosper held a series of coalition breakfasts, where the women of Why Not Prosper prepared the meals and shared in community with the members of the coalition. The coalition brought together key stakeholders who live, organize and whose work affects women in reentry in Germantown, PA. Over plates of scrambled eggs and cups of coffee, the coalition developed goals and identified policy solutions for the barriers the women face.
  • Work with partners, collect the data. PHAN and WNP created a needs and service assessment survey that they and all the coalition partners administered to the women in their programs. Women from Why Not Prosper gave direct feedback on the survey and its effectiveness. This allowed the coalition to gather the information needed and identify where the breakdowns in access and coverage were happening. By collectively gathering and sharing information, the coalition is able to find solutions from the same reference point.
  • Items in mirror may be closer than they appear. One of the key lessons learned from building the coalition, developing relationships and collecting the data, is that policy priorities might have to shift to meet the immediate needs of the community. As the coalition explored service gaps and policy solutions, they found themselves having to prioritize the issue of interagency transfers – an issue they originally saw as something to tackle much further down the line. However, through this collective process they discovered that without finding solutions for the interagency breakdown in communication, the broader and larger-scale policy agenda items might not be successful or even possible. The coalition’s ability to be flexible, readjust their priorities and work towards building up to larger policy wins has given it the momentum necessary as we head into year two.

We are excited to advance the work in year two – and learn from these growing relationships across health and human services and straddling local and state policy agendas. Stay tuned!