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New Public Health AmeriCorps program looks to tackle health care gap

Through the American Rescue Act, $60 million in grants are helping recruit more than 3,000 paid volunteers in state across the country, to work in health care settings. Many of them are college students pursuing health care-related majors.
According to the U.S. Census, about 1 in 10 Americans do not have access to health care. The reasons vary, but include a lack of health insurance, no nearby medical facilities and a lack of access to transportation.
The Shalom Project is a nonprofit that runs a medical clinic, which serves some of those with the greatest need in the Winston-Salem, North Carolina community. The clinic is about to get some additional help, thanks to volunteers from the new Public Health AmeriCorps program.
Posted at 12:47 PM, Sep 13, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-13 12:47:13-04

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Inside this clinic, medicine is more than just health care.

It's a lifeline.

"The way we do that is we have a free food pantry, a clothing closet, and free medical clinic,” said Jeffrey Foster, program manager for The Shalom Project.

This nonprofit runs a medical clinic that serves some of those with the greatest need in the Winston-Salem, North Carolina community.

"We are kind of the basic safety net that catches all of these folks,” he said. "We can take blood. We have a lab. We have a full pharmacy. We have an orthopedic doctor that comes."

It's a lot of work and Foster said they could use some help.

Now, they're about to get it.

Public Health AmeriCorps is a new joint effort between the federal AmeriCorps volunteer program and the Centers for Disease Control.

Through the American Rescue Act, $60 million in grants is helping recruit more than 3,000 paid volunteers in states across the country to work in health care settings. Many of them are college students pursuing health care-related majors.

Marianne Magjuka coordinates the program and is an assistant dean of students and the executive director of the Office of Civic and Community Engagement at Wake Forest University.

"This is the first year of funding for Public Health AmeriCorps," she said. "AmeriCorps members will be doing all kinds of different things. They'll be doing patient navigation services, translation services. They'll also be working with patients to do follow-up care."

Tripp Causby is a biochemistry and molecular biology major at Wake Forest University and one of the first Public Health AmeriCorps volunteers.

"Some people might have access to health care, but the quality of health care that they have is just not what it needs to be," he said.

Causby is preparing to go to medical school and said his upbringing opened his eyes to health care disparities in America.

"I come from a rural western North Carolina town that a lot of people don't have access to quality care, and I've seen that firsthand," Causby said, "and I feel like through this Public Health AmeriCorps program, it all sort of further exposed me to these inequities that I hope to combat one day as a physician."

For Wake Forest psychology major Rachael Nyankson, the pandemic served as a wake-up call and prompted her to volunteer.

"Just to be able to learn how to better advocate and serve those in this community and how we can start to change, start the conversation about getting increased health access to individuals," she said.

Back at The Shalom Project, Jeffrey Foster is looking forward to getting additional help.

"They're going to be concentrated in the medical side of it, which I'm excited about,” he said, adding, “because there's a lot that we need to do here."