Community Organizing: A Novel Approach to Identifying Healthcare Needs

Primary author: Katie Schmidt
Co-author(s): Carly Celebrezze; Kelly Anne Hennessey; Andrew Liechty; Courtney Roberts
Faculty sponsor: Dr. Luis Manriquez

Primary college/unit: Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine
Campus: Spokane

The Spokane Alliance is a non-partisan organization of religious institutions, educators, unions and other civic non-profits organizing for the common good in Spokane, Washington. The Healthcare Research Action Team (HRAT) was formed in response to Alliance members attesting that healthcare is a significant stressor in their lives.

The HRAT, led by medical students from WSU and UW, conducted a health needs assessment of its 31 member organizations. Listening sessions were held with 13 Spokane Alliance organizations in 2018 to qualitatively ascertain healthcare needs among community members.

111 Spokane community members participated. Three themes emerged as common issues: healthcare system complexity, affordability, and mental health needs.

Forty-six stories were shared regarding healthcare system complexity. Members stated they had difficulty navigating both the healthcare and insurance systems. They also expressed frustration with the lack of communication between providers and confusion related to healthcare paperwork.

Twenty-six Spokane Alliance members shared about issues with healthcare affordability, regardless of their health insurance status. Eight members stated they experienced challenges accessing mental health services and stigma surrounding mental health needs.

Community organizing methods can yield rich qualitative data on healthcare needs. The issues identified by Spokane Alliance members indicate a need for improvements in healthcare system navigability, affordability, and access to mental health services in Spokane. Since this needs assessment was conducted, the WSU mobile medicine program has launched its first mobile medical unit, which is equipped to provide primary care and reproductive health services, informed, in part, by the results of this needs assessment.