Finding the Health Advocate In All Of Us, Part I

By Julie A. Rawlings,
Guest Writer, UrbanHealthWatch.net

Continue reading Part II of Rawlings “Finding the Health Advocate” series by clicking here. The views expressed in the articles are Rawlings’ own, and do not reflect/represent the views of Lifespan or the Minority Health Advisory Committee.


Pictured above is a page from one of the hand-outs distributed at the February 12, 2010 “annual meeting” of the RI Department of Health’s Minority Advisory Committee. The Minority Advisory Committee is co-chaired by Julie A. Rawlings, a Minority Outreach Specialist with Lifespan. Rawlings also facilitates the Rhode Island Free Women’s Cancer Screening Program with Lifespan’s Hospitals, helping to provide clinical breast exams, pelvic exams, pap smears and mammograms to uninsured and underinsured women who are eligible. Click on the image or here to download the entire February 12 presentation.

PROVIDENCE, RI – When the opportunity arose to submit to Urban Health Watch, I was concerned about what I could contribute. Not being a physician or nurse, what was I qualified to speak on? Yet as I reflected further on my work as a professional health advocate and volunteer, I knew there were lessons I could share.

As a Minority Outreach Specialist with Lifespan, my position focuses on outreach and fulfilling the health needs of Rhode Island’s underserved population. One aspect of my position is to hold monthly meetings focusing on health issues requested by “Lifespan Community Health Advocates.” The Lifespan Community Health Advocates primarily represent, though are not limited to, non-profit community and faith -based agencies that provide direct services to populations in need. Since taking my post, the number of Lifespan Community Health Advocates has increased to more than eighty members, which means: Lifespan can better reach and assist communities in need. But what does it take to create such a vibrant and diverse group?

To initially recruit new members I developed a community needs assessment and sent it through both traditional or postal “snail” mail and electronically (by email) to about 140 community-based facilities and sites. This allowed me to directly hear back about which topics merit and require attention. Even today, I continue to use this same tool to recruit and retain advocates. Still, my toolbox is filled with other resources, which have inspired me, and others.

In 2009, I was among many around the state who responded to outreach and recommendations by the Rhode Island Department of Health – by viewing the documentary series, “Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality making us Sick?” While impressed with the data, storytelling, and messaging of this award-winning program, many people who viewed these amazing documentaries felt that learning more about policy and legislation could in fact make an impact on our communities. Some around the table were my colleagues with the Minority Health Advisory Committee, of which I serve as co-chairperson.

The Minority Health Advisory Committee advises the Rhode Island Department on strategies to reduce health disparities throughout Rhode Island. As chair of the legislative committee, I feel that, not only is it very important for community members to understand legislation that will or will not impact their communities, but is necessary for there to be involvement in the shaping of policies in the first place. One way we accomplish these things is through our annual meeting, where we invite community partners in to present and help set goals for the year ahead in relation to policies and legislation to reduce health disparities. This year’s meeting was held on Friday, February 12, 2010.

What can you do to become an effective health advocate? How can you help create and sustain policies that promote health? Take action and engage your networks. Because, as I’ve learned, there is a health advocate in us all.

For more information about becoming a Lifespan Community Health Advocate, or to reach her directly, email jrawlings1@lifespan.org.

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Lifespan is a not-for-profit organization that manages RI Hospital, Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Miriam Hospital, Bradley Hospital, and Newport Hospital.

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Urban Health Watch (UrbanHealthWatch.net) is a blog managed by the Urban League of Rhode Island and edited by Reza Corinne Clifton, an award-winning multimedia journalist. It is funded by the Rhode Island Prevention Block Grant, a program of the Rhode Island Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

One response to “Finding the Health Advocate In All Of Us, Part I

  1. Pingback: Finding the Health Advocate In All Of Us, Part II: Topics and Current Issues « Urban Health Watch

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