HealthMeet® In Action – In 5 States, Changing Lives

Young girl with audiologistBy Ann Cameron Williams, Ph.D., Senior Executive Officer, Research and Innovations and Karen Wolf-Branigin, Senior Executive Officer, National Initiatives

Many of us at The Arc at local, state, and national levels get up and go to work every morning to make a positive difference for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD).  It’s not only what we do, it’s who we are.

When I have the opportunity to go visit local and state Chapters, I am usually stunned by the creativity and sheer genius that is activated on behalf of people that are in need of a better solution.  This past month, The Arc US invited five Chapters from the five states that are engaged in our HealthMeet®: Promoting Health for People with Intellectual Disabilities that is funded by the CDC, to share with us their approaches to improving health in their communities.  As we listened, once again, I found myself marveling at the depth of understanding and quality of response that our Chapters deliver.

For example, in Massachusetts, The Arc of Massachusetts is working in collaboration with the health providers from the Boston Medical Center, the Developmental Disabilities Nurses Association and Simmons College to conduct health assessments. They translated the HealthMeet flyer and engaged in specific outreach efforts in Boston’s Portuguese community. In addition, The Arc of Massachusetts is coordinating a four-week Health and Nutrition program for people with intellectual/developmental disabilities

In Pennsylvania, ACHIEVA, The Arc of Greater Pittsburgh, recruited physicians, medical residents and students, nurses, retired nurses, nursing students, paramedics, physical therapists and speech/language pathologists to conduct health assessments at ACHIEVA programs, community recreation programs and community health fairs. ACHIEVA created and produces an e-newsletter, Your Health Matters, with articles on policy, applied research, services and training events related to HealthMeet events and health and intellectual/developmental disabilities.

In North Carolina, The Arc of North Carolina is building the HealthMeet program within their local chapters with 8 sites across the state. Their goals are to work in rural and urban areas, serve as a catalyst to build and strengthen partnerships, bring value to the membership and let chapters shine. They have created an infrastructure with a list serve, real-time contact lists, and shared group workspace to share tools and processes. Significant community involvement from a plethora of stakeholders is an important part of the North Carolina model.

The Arc of New Jersey is working with The Arc of Atlantic County, The Arc of Camden County, The Arc of Essex County, The Arc Gloucester, and The Arc of Monmouth to implement HealthMeet events. The chapters complete assessments as part of their day program services and at ambulatory care centers. Publicity efforts have included print and broadcast media, including guest appearance on a local radio show, podcasts and interviews with local television stations.

And in San Francisco, The Arc San Francisco hosts Wellness Wednesdays, an organized drop in health assessment for the people they serve. The program is held on site so it’s easily accessible to individuals, allows for private screenings, and is easy to quickly set-up/breakdown. The Arc San Francisco developed their own registration system and uses Nurses and volunteers to conduct the assessment. In addition, they are developing processes to identify potential health issues on an ongoing basis by training Direct Support Professionals to be aware of hidden health issues.

In each state, Chapters are facilitating life-changing events that are helping people with I/DD identify health concerns and training medical health professionals and students to become more familiar with interacting with people with disabilities.  Each Chapter has developed a customized approach, which is one of the hallmarks of our responsive network.  The Arc of the United States is also helping with systems level changes through innovative and timely training via our HealthMeet webinars, partnering with the University of Minnesota to advance self-advocacy training in health promotion and other essential life areas at www.selfadvocacyonline, and advancing in-community health promotion program training.

This effort is bringing into clear relief the chronic and often unattended health care needs of the people we serve.  Who is looking?  The CDC is, for one.  The health systems of the five states in which HealthMeet runs are, for another.  And the thousands of medical health professionals that are contributing their time and interests into this effort are, as well.  We are changing the world.

This thing is, health is – and should be considered – a civil right.  Chapters of The Arc are helping to get this word across to many who may be hearing this message for the first time.  Simply stated, with gratitude:  thank you.