AHS ‘ecosystem’ selected for national learning collaborative

August 16th, 2021

In nearly five years with Jumpstart Ministries, first as a volunteer and then as a case manager, Karen Underwood has been part of a team that has helped hundreds of people transition out of prison successfully.

But she’ll never forget one particular man who didn’t make it.

“The medical care inside the prison system is not so great,” Underwood said. “One gentleman who was in our program had a stomach issue, and they just kept giving him Pepto to treat his symptoms. When he got out, it turned out he had stomach cancer and he passed away a year later.”

While that was an extreme case, people coming out of the prison system often have medical and behavioral health needs that have been undiagnosed, untreated or both. And once they are released they face significant obstacles to getting the treatment and care they need.

That’s where the partnership between AccessHealth Spartanburg, Jumpstart Ministries, S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation and the Spartanburg County Area Mental Health Center comes in.

“We sit down with AccessHealth once a month and review everyone in our program who is getting out in the next month,” Underwood said. “If they need prescriptions, or they have an important medical need immediately, AccessHealth is able to get them signed up and into immediate care. Normally, they would just be out of luck.”

Jumpstart works with incarcerated individuals before their release through a rigorous 40-week class curriculum “focused on transforming lives through worship, fellowship, discipleship, mentoring, serving others, living with purpose, and reentry education,” according to their website. About 40 percent of people who enroll in the program successfully complete it, but of those, 96 percent stay out of prison, obtain employment and live in stable housing. The program is currently offered in 16 prisons in South Carolina.

AHS works with Jumpstart to help identify and address the barriers to care for individuals in the program and help ensure they have access to the range of primary care, speciality care, behavioral health, prescription assistance, and social services they need once they are released.

AccessHealth has been recognized for its innovative approach to helping people with complex health needs and significant barriers to care. Developing strong, creative community partnerships has always been at the core of how AHS approaches its work.

The formerly incarcerated population is just one that AccessHealth Spartanburg is focused on helping through its approach to complex care navigation. And now, that work is getting a boost through a select national collaborative studying and supporting “healthcare ecosystems” — community partnerships that are highly focused on addressing the complex needs of a specific population.

The Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers and its National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs has included AccessHealth Spartanburg along with five other programs across the country in a yearlong Ecosystem Community Learning Collaborative. Each of the programs selected will receive technical assistance from the National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs while also sharing and learning from each other.

“At AccessHealth, we have a ton of ecosystems — collaboration is what we’re all about,” AHS Director Summer Tebalt said. “But I have always been impressed with Jumpstart and their outcomes. So I really felt like this would be a good opportunity to get some assistance from the Camden Coalition that will help us build on and better measure what we are doing, which will help us build more support for this particular ecosystem.”

The partnership has already made a big impact in the lives of dozens of formerly incarcerated individuals. AHS social worker/care navigator Brook Henderson, Underwood, and staff from Spartanburg Area Mental Health Center and S.C. Vocational Rehabilitation meet monthly to case manage recently released individuals.

“One of our top goals is to be able to get people to be employable, be able to purchase a car, be able to pay rent,” Underwood said. “Having AHS as a partner to get them into medical care is a key component, and we are usually able to help individuals get to work within 45 days of their release.”

It is exactly the kind of partnership and approach to addressing complex needs that the National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs was looking to include in its national collaborative.

Rebecca Koppel, program manager with the Camden Coalition and the National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs, said several factors made AccessHealth and its ecosystem work with Jumpstart Ministries an attractive selection for the learning collaborative.

“We definitely see (AccessHealth Spartanburg) as a leader in the field of complex care and we are really excited they are a part of this,” Koppel said. “AccessHealth being in a non-Medicaid expansion state provides a specific context for what they do and how they do it. Working with a faith-based group is unique — they have unique challenges and advantages. And meeting with Summer and hearing her passion and energy and creativity was pretty exciting — the way she saw that systems that currently exist were not enough to support people with complex needs and her eagerness to look beyond traditional partnerships and systems.”

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