“They are angels,” Miguel Mendez said of NKCDC Health Connectors Brenda Mosley and Chris Rys.
As part of their regular outreach to neighbors, the community health workers knocked on the door of his Kensington home in November 2019. What they learned was Mendez had been severely injured in a trucking accident in 2010 and, because of a series of complications, was living without health insurance or regular home care.
Most of the time, NKCDC’s Health Connectors conduct health screenings and match Kensington residents to affordable health care, healthy food, credit and budget counseling, and other social services. Since March, the Connectors have worked by phone and online. But earlier in the year, some situations required more.
Because of his injury, Mendez has a speech impairment and movement is difficult. “Doctors told him he was not going to see, speak or walk again,” Rys said, “so the fact he’s speaking and moving at all shows how determined he is.”
Mosley and Rys offered to help him talk to his insurance company. A week later they were all in his living room on the phone with his doctor, Medicaid, and Medicare, working through the process of reactivating his accounts.
Getting coverage restored was like “starting from zero,” Mendez said. And when it was restored, Medicaid approved less than half the home care hours they had covered before. “They wanted to give me nothing,” he said.
Wrestling with insurance and home care continued. When this story was first written, Mosley and Rys were appealing the Medicaid decision, and fighting for back pay for his longtime caregiver.
But “Mr. Mendez greets us with a huge smile and a hug every time we see him,” Rys said. “Any frustration we feel from being tangled in red tape is broken up with laughter.”
Rys and Mosley are part of 16 Kensington community members who graduated as Community Health Workers from a series of courses taught at NKCDC by instructors from Jefferson University. The training, funded by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, aims to address the “social determinants of health” in Philadelphia—economic and social conditions like stress, employment, housing quality, or access to food that have a profound effect on people’s wellbeing.
In 2019, NKCDC hired 11 of the new community health workers to address health needs in Kensington.
“The thing that surprised me the most with Mr. Mendez is that before we leave he says ‘I love you.’ That might be just as important as the services we are providing,” Rys said. “There are residents like Mr. Mendez alone in their homes and as much as they need someone to help them navigate systems and services, they need someone to just share a little love.”
“When we leave Miguel’s home we feel so uplifted,” Mosley said. “He prays with us every time. His humor and his positive outlook leave you feeling grateful for life.”
“I thank God for them because I could be dead,” Mendez said. “I want them to go and knock on more doors.”
Mosley, Rys and their colleagues ended their term at NKCDC in June. But their diligent work secured a second year of funding from the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, and a new group of Kensington residents began training with NKCDC and Jefferson University this week. As before, NKCDC will hire a number of the new trainees as Health Connectors in Kensington. For more information, visit nkcdc.org/health-connectors.