From the South Bronx to Radio City

I never thought I would have to adjust to living in New York City. Having grown up in the tri-state area and spent the last year living in South America, I saw my GHC placement in the city as coming home. What did worry me was that aside from a couple of stints as a hospital volunteer, I had never formally worked in public health and I faced a steep learning curve. I began my fellowship certain that the challenges ahead would be rooted in content, not context.

The past few months have dispelled these assumptions and demonstrated just how much one can learn in her own backyard.

My co-fellow Joke and I work for Children’s Health Fund, an organization established in 1987 to help New York City’s most medically underserved children. CHF began with the model of the mobile medical unit, or doctor’s office on wheels, that could travel to homeless shelters, schools, and other locations to provide children consistent and high-quality medical attention. Thanks in part to a celebrity co-founder (the singer Paul Simon), CHF has expanded to become a national organization celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary. I work mainly at a clinic in the South Bronx that is affiliated with both CHF and Montefiore Medical Center.

The clinic offers both adult and pediatric care to patients who mostly live nearby in the South Bronx. I focus on group care for pregnant women and for parents and their babies. Groups offer patients both a medical visit and additional support from their providers and other patients experiencing similar situations. The meetings cover nutrition, exercise, healthy partner relationships, and numerous other topics. Refining the pregnancy group curriculum and meeting the women who participate has shown me how these groups build immense trust and community among women and the clinical staff. We have gone on outings together to a community garden and discussed the emotional eating urges so many of us struggle with when under stress. I have even demonstrated how to give a massage to a woman who is in labor.

Working directly with patients has given me an invaluable understanding of how Children’s Health Fund’s mission and values echo consistently throughout the services its funding enables.

I returned to the US last summer without an understanding of the enormous scope of the organizations already addressing domestic health inequities. I was initially humbled by the facilities where I work in the Bronx and then again at the beginning of October, when CHF’s twenty-fifth anniversary brought together representatives from its national network for a two-day conference. Each interaction with a provider or program administrator from another site confirmed a common frustration with the unmet needs of medically underserved communities and a tireless dedication to creatively resolving these inadequacies.

I finally put to rest my conviction that I already knew New York City and its residents inside and out at the benefit concert held at Radio City Music Hall after the close of the conference. Watching performers like Sting, Steve Martin, James Taylor, and many others affirm the urgency of helping children in need surprised me and firmly linked the connection between the patients I work with and how such programs continue to be funded.

I may have grown up nearby, but I never knew the extent of some New Yorkers’ struggles to access quality healthcare, let alone the citywide and national movement working to rectify this in all medically underserved communities. My work with Global Health Corps and Children’s Health Fund have already reinforced my desire to be part of that movement going forward, particularly on behalf of children in the United States.