Envisioning What We Can Do, Doing What We Can

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Tompkins Weekly 11/5/2012

By Abbe Lyons

The sustainability movement seeks to create a truly sustainable society in which social justice and equality in human society goes hand in hand with adjusting human impacts on the environmental resources of our planet. While it is vitally important to envision global and local solutions through advocacy, innovation and research, it can be tempting to separate these activities from those dealing with problems that demand remedial action. In The Star Thrower, scientist and naturalist Loren Eiseley recounts encountering a man on a beach who was throwing stranded starfish back into the ocean. Many starfish have already died and many more threatened. Eiseley ponders the enormity of it, and he knows it won’t be possible to save them all, yet in the end he too is moved to do what he can, and in this collaborative act he finds greater meaning for what it means to be a human in the natural world. His local action informs his global vision. In a fictionalized version of the story that has become popular, when asked what difference does it make to throw back a single starfish when it’s clearly impossible to save them all, the man says, “It makes a difference to this one.”

The stigma and fears surrounding illness and disability cause many people to ignore health problems until they become emergencies. Add to that the fear of medical bills beyond one’s ability to pay, and there is another starfish stranded on the beach.  At the Ithaca Health Alliance, we what we can to facilitating access to health care for area residents without health insurance, or who are under-insured. In addition, the barriers to good health and adequate health care are also intimately intertwined with sustainability issues such as pollution, climate change and food justice, as well as poverty, inequality and prejudice. Many people without insurance are working, often more than one job, but without the option of health insurance from their employers. Whether they work as cashiers or as adjunct college professors, if they make too much money to be eligible for insurance coverage through Medicaid or Family Health Plus, that doesn’t mean that they make enough to afford health insurance premiums.  Many of the people in this category will be among the 26 plus million who will remain uninsured under the Affordable Care Act. Although donations are always welcome, there is never any charge for services provided by the Alliance. Our educational newsletter and workshops are free to all. Primary and holistic care at the Ithaca Free Clinic is free for those without insurance coverage for these services. Limited financial assistance for certain unreimbursed emergency health and dental bills through the Ithaca Health Fund is free to low income area residents who qualify.

The Alliance is people from all parts of our community coming together as allies in support of our mission to facilitate access to health care for all. We are committed to a community-based, integrative health care model, where medical and holistic providers can collaborate for greater benefit, and where every person is treated with equal respect, whether they come to receive help or to give help with health care – or both. Through the IHA educational newsletter and workshops on health and wellness, the community comes together to teach each other so that each person can activate their most important primary care provider – herself or himself. This, too, is part of envisioning what we can do, and doing what we can.

The Ithaca Health Alliance programs were all founded with community support. Our tiny paid staff may be the backbone, but our dedicated community volunteers, who give so generously of their time and talent, are the heart and soul of our Alliance. Volunteers provide medical and holistic health care at the Free Clinic, make up our board and committees, help with outreach, educational programs and fundraising. Everyone you encounter at the Clinic from check-in to discharge, with the exception of the Clinic Coordinator, is a volunteer. Our community volunteers and donors believe that as members of this community we have a responsibility and commitment to take care of each other. You can be part of a sustainable Ithaca Health Alliance – envisioning what is possible, and doing what we can with that vision in mind. Perhaps you can be the one to toss one of those starfish back into the water.

The Ithaca Free Clinic has walk-in hours Mondays from 2-6 pm and Thursdays from 4-8 pm and is also open Tuesdays 3-7 pm by appointment. The Health Alliance office is open weekdays 10am-6pm. Learn more about the Alliance and its programs at www.ithacahealth.org.

Abbe Lyons is the Executive Director of the Ithaca Health Alliance.

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