On a rainy day in Chicago, two community organizers reminisced about how — 20 years ago — they first met while working on a bill to strengthen “charity care” requirements for hospitals in Illinois. That moment reminded us of why it is so important to bring people together from different communities, experiences, and perspectives to make our health system more just and community-centered. But it also served as a sober reminder: our work is far from over.
That 20-year-old bill, after all, is languishing with Illinois’ elected officials — while being tirelessly championed and pushed by community advocates to actually pass into law. (Learn more about community benefits and how they impact communities by reading Do Non-Profit Hospitals Deserve Their Tax Break?)
The community organizers had reconnected as part of a bilingual English/Spanish gathering, hosted by Community Catalyst and held at the Shriver Center on Poverty Law, for ten organizations that we are honored to partner with in Illinois.
Ever Thrive Illinois
Highwood Public Library
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR)
IL Family Caregiver Coalition
Legal Council for Health Justice
Mujeres Latinas en Acción
Shriver Center on Poverty Law
SGA Youth and Family Services
Being in person with our partners ignited that extra spark of motivation, joy, and shared experience. There, we heard firsthand about their work, and what they need to support and sustain these vital efforts. The gathering also allowed for advocates who don’t already know one another to connect, exchange ideas, and share their experiences.
While we can’t bring you back to “the room where it happened,” (hello, Hamilton fans!), we can share a few highlights about the awesome organizations we are proud to call partners.
Mujeres Latinas en Acción
This community-based organization works on-the-ground to help community members navigate the bureaucracy of the hospital billing system. Not only do they provide individualized support, they further educate people on how to advocate for themselves. “As many of us are aware, deciphering hospital policies can be complex and often leads to staff burnout,” said Jenny Chiang, senior state advocacy manager at Community Catalyst’s Center for Community Engagement in Health Innovation. “However, the promotoras [a Spanish term for community health workers] are always eager to learn, help uplift community voices, and advocate for systemic policy changes.”
Always helping, always advocating
In another moment of connection and advancing shared goals, Diana Zheng of Community Catalyst’s Vaccine Equity and Access Program (VEAP) said: “One of the partners in attendance mentioned that they had recently heard from a woman who was having trouble signing up for health coverage because she has no identifying documents other than her name on her children’s birth certificates. Another one of the partners, which has in-house legal expertise, said they knew of a possible way for her to qualify for health coverage. The partners exchanged contact information, and hopefully were able to work together to help this client receive the health coverage she needs.”
Until next time…
In the end, we were inspired by how meaningful it can be to simply gather together. Katherine Villeda, a policy analyst at Community Catalyst recognized how valuable the time was for everyone who was able to attend. “One partner expressed their contentment with the event and wanting to replicate a similar gathering among the partners in the room in a bimonthly/regular basis to continue to foster relationships — and that made me so happy,” Katherine said.