By Ashanty Reece, Care Navigator, The Fortune Society
When I meet with new clients at The Fortune Society as a Care Navigator, I introduce The Care Management Unit’s (CMU) services as a resource to help them navigate their healthcare. CMU promotes “preventative care,” medical services to prevent illnesses, diseases, and any other medical emergency. This is done by connecting clients to medical professionals who will help them manage their medical diagnosis and avoid any severe medical conditions leading to the emergency room or hospitalization.
My responsibilities as Care Navigator closely align with the definition of “navigation”—finding and following a path through a difficult place, and dealing effectively with a complicated situation. For most of CMU’s clients, learning how to get professional medical care can be just that—difficult and complicated. This is where the CMU team steps in to help.
Our formerly incarcerated clients have often only been exposed to healthcare professionals during confinement and some of those encounters were traumatic. The clients shared that sometimes their diagnoses are not thoroughly looked at and the medications prescribed often do not resolve the issues. Clients also shared that although healthcare providers do not educate them on their diagnosis or the medications prescribed, they take what is provided to them. They do not question or feel as if they have a voice to do so. This has resulted in the worsening of their mental and physical health, as many have been wrongfully diagnosed or medicated.
Once released, formerly incarcerated individuals have to deal with a healthcare system that can sometimes feel more like the legal system when trying to navigate it alone. Sometimes they face barriers that encourage them to not face it at all; they’d rather not deal with complicated insurance eligibility or obtaining documents necessary to get coverage. After incarceration, they sometimes face coverage restrictions due to their incarceration status not being updated upon release. Trying to prove they are no longer incarcerated can prolong the process of them obtaining insurance and often turns the client away from services altogether.
During reentry, people may shift their priorities, which sometimes do not include checking on or improving their health. This can happen for different reasons. For instance, individuals who want to find employment may learn that if they make too much money, they will not qualify for health insurance or it won’t be affordable for purchase. At times, making and scheduling appointments is difficult because they do not have income or a means of transportation to get there. These are just a few of the issues our clients face when trying to navigate their healthcare.
My job is to guide them through all of this as a Care Navigator and advocate for systems change as part of the Policy Center Collective—a group of 30 Fortune staff working collaboratively to advocate for social justice reform.
They have the right to question their providers and not feel stuck in receiving treatment they do not feel comfortable with. At the same time, the CMU team is there to guide, support, and educate them to work towards breaking the mental strain of navigating the healthcare system.