The Journal Gazette
Sunday, November 28, 2021 1:00 am

Human connections help ease health issues

Dianne May

Editor's note: This is the first of a series of op-ed columns from members of the Alliance for Human Services, a group of 50 local nonprofits helping people thrive.

There are few things more important than our health. Gratitude for good health is on many minds this season.

Our health affects our ability to work, play, live independently and maintain strong relationships. Imagine if you could not do just one of those things. Where would you turn?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified five factors that significantly affect our health. They call them social determinants of health; the list consists of health care access and quality, education access and quality, economic stability, neighborhood, and social connections.

I would suggest a sixth factor: human service organizations. Our community is extraordinarily blessed to have a number of effective and high-quality nonprofits working to improve the health and well-being of residents.

When disease or injury strikes, medical care is essential. But it quickly becomes clear to people experiencing a health crisis that they need much more.

They need compassion, information and a sense of control amid overwhelming events. They need someone who sees their whole self. Someone who is ready to help their family, too. That is what they get at human service organizations – help and compassionate expertise.

Neighborhood Health Clinics was a medical home for nearly 19,000 people last year, 92% of whom were low-income. These individuals received 54,203 appointments for well-baby care, medical, dental, eye care and behavioral health issues.

They also helped 741 adults manage diabetes and 1,246 people learn to control their blood pressure.

Last year at Cancer Services of Northeast Indiana, 4,003 people with cancer found a personal advocate to help them navigate the emotional and practical challenges of their disease. Cancer Services provided equipment and supplies as well as financial assistance used in the smartest way for things such as health insurance copays, prescriptions to ensure ongoing access to health care and increased financial stability.

Equally important, our agency provided a community of support where people experiencing cancer met new friends in exercise or nutrition classes, friends who understood their experiences firsthand. Most of all, they knew they were not alone.

Sometimes, a person might look healthy on the outside, but is struggling inside with depression, anxiety or other mental health conditions. They need and deserve the same care and compassion.

Mental Health America's peer support specialists shared their own experiences living with these challenges with 193 individuals last year. And thousands of community members learned how to recognize and better understand what good mental health is through education sessions.

Cancer Services, Neighborhood Health Clinics and Mental Health America are just three examples of the dozens of amazing organizations in our community that positively affect the health and lives of us all.

Human service organizations create a network of resources to sustain people in all the ways they need–emotionally, practically, financially, mentally, socially and physically. These organizations are partners with health care providers, educators, local government and employers.

Human service organizations exist because people who have walked these paths before us know that human beings are complex creatures with many facets and experiences. These donors and volunteers care deeply about helping others, so they have created and sustained human service organizations to be their hands and feet doing the work of their hearts.

This is something for which we can all be thankful.

Dianne May is CEO of Cancer Services and a member of Alliance for Human Services.

By the numbers

• One in three people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with cancer in their lifetime.

• One in five adults in the U.S. experienced mental illness in 2019.

• Annual family premiums for employer-sponsored health care averaged $22,221 in 2021.

• Six in 10 adults have a chronic disease.

• One in five adults is providing care to another adult with health needs.

• 61% of caregivers are also maintaining employment.

• 45% have felt a negative financial effect because of caregiving.

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