Remember Maslow’s hierarchy of needs – if basic physical and safety needs aren’t met, then self-actualization isn’t achieved. It is easy to see then, that student success is dependent upon the health and wellbeing of the student.
“Health and academic achievement are linked. We need to educate students how to access preventive services,” said Veronica Plaza, who teaches medical Spanish. She is also a medical doctor and has a master’s degree in public health. Plaza and her students, as well as their collaborators from the Office of Community Health, the Community Engagement Center and the Office of the Vice President of Student Affairs, are waging a campaign to get students to enroll in Medicaid, the New Mexico access point for the Affordable Care Act.
“Some students didn’t qualify previously. With Medicaid expansion, students who are over 26 years of age or are 18 and independent, are now eligible,” Plaza said. She added that getting students enrolled is important for their health, welfare and for the university.
Dr. Beverly Kloeppel, director of the Student Health and Counseling Center, said that SHAC has people on site on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons to assist students to get enrolled, and is planning to expand the availability. “Specific coverage depends upon what individuals qualify for and with whom they are enrolled,” she said.
Preventive care services, including contraception and family planning services are covered through ACA compliance policies. “Since college-aged students are the peak age group in New Mexico for sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and infections (STIs), screening and treatment could be covered,” Plaza said, adding that the same holds true for substance abuse.
Plaza, her students and others are looking for other ways to get students signed up and keep them enrolled. “Individuals need to sign up for Medicaid annually, so we are looking for a way to connect reminders about enrollment to something they do annually at UNM, like submitting a FAFSA. We need to have systems that talk to each other that could serve as a pipeline,” she said.
Kiran Katira, program operations manager for the Community Engagement Center, said, “We are starting with students educating students because there’s trust among them. From there, they will take the information back to their families and community,” adding that students in UNM Service Corps, in the Community Engagement Center, will also be trained.
Health literacy in New Mexico is low because of low educational attainment. “Information and materials should be presented at a fifth grade level to reach people,” Plaza said.
Plaza said, “Healthcare providers need to ask patients about violence and safety, but they also need to ask questions about things that cause stress, such as access to transportation, food security or a safe place to sleep.” She added, “Students and others need to know how to apply for public benefits. They need to be taught how to navigate the system. It’s important for them to retain their dignity and understand that these are rights, not charity.”
View the Affordable Care Act slideshow.