Posted on August 15, 2016 • Category: Healthcare
By Mindy Riesenberg
Karlene Keogh was a single mother with no job, no insurance and less than $100 in her pocket when she returned to Phoenix after 10 years in Germany. To top it off, her young daughter had asthma and needed medical care. With help from a few close friends and family, as well as her own personal drive and perseverance, Keogh was able to rebuild her life and become self-sufficient. But the memories of this trying time stayed with her, and in 2003, Keogh and her late husband Kevin started the Keogh Health Connection to provide assistance to uninsured Arizonans and work toward making health care accessible to all.
A 501(c)(3) organization, Keogh Health Connection helps the most vulnerable people in the state secure affordable health care during times of personal crisis, focusing on those who are participating in programs to achieve self-sufficiency. Through targeted outreach and personal assistance, families and individuals are helped with applications for AHCCCS (Medicaid), health care plans through the Affordable Care Act Marketplace, KidsCare, Temporary Cash Assistance (TANF) and SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps).
Keogh provides outreach offices and hands-on, bilingual employees (called Navigators) in community centers, hospitals, clinics, family service organizations, schools, educational aid centers, food banks and more, with over 30 locations in the Valley and a main office in central Phoenix. These locations, which are partnerships with like-minded, socially responsible organizations, are traditionally agencies that have established trust relationships with working-poor families. ABILITY 360, Dignity Health, Maricopa County and the Salvation Army are just a few of Keogh’s partners.
“We find people where they live and where they trust people,” said Saundra Johnson, Executive Director. “We’re in the places where they already go for assistance, rather than where they are uncomfortable or feel intimidated.”
The Keogh Navigators meet with clients to help them learn about, find and apply for the right health care option for themselves and their families. Those consumers who don’t qualify are directed to community resources such as food banks, free medical and dental clinics and other supportive services, helping them to build a bridge back to self-sufficiency.
Johnson credits Keogh Health Connection’s ability to thrive to its success in getting grants, its strong board of directors and its maintenance of a stable workforce of people who understand the multitudes of application processes that clients may encounter.
“The fact that we’ve had little turnover has been a huge help in being able to move large numbers of citizens through the system,” said Johnson.
From 2008–2015, Keogh Health Connection served over 62,000 people and worked on over 19,000 applications. 80 percent of the people currently assisted are children under 19 years old and 77 percent are Hispanic.
The organization also focuses on agencies that help to move families toward self-sufficiency, such as Head Start, training and educational programs. A new community health worker program has recently been launched, which will cross-train workers to enroll people in health care and teach classes in areas such as nutrition and diabetes.
The people who use Keogh Health Connection’s services are diverse, ranging from those who have had medical issues that have strained their resources to those who have been laid off suddenly from professional jobs, from veterans with disabilities to families just trying to make ends meet.
One of the biggest goals for Keogh Health Connection is enrolling families in KidsCare, which is designed to help those who earn too much for AHCCCS (Medicaid) but earn too little to afford to pay for health insurance for their children. With the reinstatement of KidsCare enrollment this year, an estimated 30,000 children from working poor families are expected to receive coverage over the next year.
Many of these families don’t have access to computers. Keogh Health Connection helps them overcome this barrier by having trained Navigators sit one-on-one with clients to sign them up electronically at locations across the Valley.
Chanin Melissa Stapley is the mother of six children, five of which are under 16 and live at home.
“Although we don’t have enough money to pay for health care, we didn’t qualify for assistance because my husband actually made too much money to qualify,” said Stapley. “Then, when my husband was out of work, we needed to go to the Salvation Army to get food, which is where I found out about Keogh.”
Stapley learned that she would be able to sign up for assistance right there at the Salvation Army location with assistance from a Keogh Navigator.
“I was thrilled because it’s so difficult to get places with kids,” said Stapley.
She was also happy about getting help with signing up for assistance online.
“Getting online is difficult – sometimes you get booted off,” she said. “It was a relief to have someone uploading everything as we spoke.”
Stapley said that the medical care and nutritional assistance they receive now is a “blessing,” and that working with Keogh Health Connection was a wonderful experience.
“The Keogh group is just the greatest way to do it,” she said. “Having someone empathize with you and be friendly just encourages you to go through the process. It’s good to hear someone relating to you and your circumstances, and to know that help’s on the way. It is a smooth transition to get everything submitted and where it’s supposed to go, and you feel like you’re not necessarily applying for assistance, you’re just getting help.”
Marcia Karasek first heard about Keogh Health Connection through a friend of hers who was on the board. She attended the organization’s annual fundraiser and was impressed with what they were doing. She knew some people who could use the organization’s services at the time and sent them for help, which they received and were extremely pleased with.
But then, Karasek’s work contract ended and she found herself without insurance, not knowing what to do.
“I’m a professional woman with a master’s degree, and don’t think of myself as someone who will need public assistance, but I did need it,” Karasek said. “There’s a dignity that they bring to a situation that can feel humiliating, which is really important, because I’m a contributing member of society and it was hard for me to do this for myself.”
“There are a lot of psychological layers to getting public assistance–it has a lot of baggage surrounding it,” Karasek continued. “But having a facility like theirs, which is beautiful, and really nice people working with you, helps you find the dignity in taking care of yourself.”
To learn more about Keogh Health Connection or to volunteer, visit http://keoghhealth.org.