Arthur Chen, M.D. (KNFP 10), Medical Director, Alameda Alliance for Health, Alameda, California.
This article was originally published in the September 2006 issue of the KFLA Newsletter.
Art Chen wears many hats. But the focus of his efforts within his many roles is constant: health access. Art volunteers as a physician at a health clinic in a low-income Asian neighborhood where he and the staff strive to find health coverage for more than one-third of the patients who are uninsured, or, they see them for free. In his day-job, he is chief medical officer for the Alameda Alliance for Health, a Medicaid managed healthcare plan with 90,000 members, where he targets hard-to-reach populations who may not know they are eligible for Medicaid or California's Healthy Families coverage. And, as the Board Chair of the California Endowment, a health foundation with assets of $3.6 billion, he oversees policy setting for grantmaking with an eye toward making a difference at "the grassroots and tree-top" levels, that is, providing services for those in need, while building self-sufficiency and community empowerment directed at changing public policy. In addition, Art chairs the Asian Pacific Islander Health Forum, a national group with programs to increase health access and to break down cultural and linguistic barriers, improve data collection for API subgroups, and ensure community-based prevention.
Through his many outlets for increasing health access, Art points out, "I always put health access into the context of what will really improve the health status of our population. It's not just health insurance; there are social determinants to health: the level of education, income, access to jobs, and the environment people live in. If we're going to make headway on improving health, we have to go beyond access and address social determinants. We also have to promote prevention efforts." Art has a passion for "getting people who are impacted by bad social policies or priorities involved so they will know how to negotiate healthcare services and can have their voice heard." Art's approach is to engage communities. He recounts how, as a public health officer for Alameda County, he was part of a team that replaced a bureaucratic approach with one that engaged citizens in a community-based approach.
Explains Art, "Rather than simply collecting statistics about the major causes of death and addressing those health issues, we tried to promote accountability and address community needs and concern. In this case, health officials met with local people in churches and other places in the neighborhoods and asked them about the major issues they faced. "In one community," he recounts, "we knew from vital statistics that heart disease was the major cause of death. However, they were more concerned about drive-by shootings related to drug dealing. We partnered with neighborhood residents and the local police department to look into the issue. It turned out there was a hot spot, one corner where the drive-bys occurred. The community was able to rid the corner of drug dealers by starting a neighborhood watch, calling the police to report any suspicious activity, and cleaning up trash in the area.
"Just as important as stopping the shooting," says Art, "was the community going through the process to interact in ways they hadn't before. They were engaged. Some time later, they asked us to have a health fair, that was music to our ears. Then, we started talking about heart disease and immunizations, and we had willing partners in the discussion." Art's advice to aspiring leaders is: "Keep grounded in your family and your community because those who understand and respect community will always look within the community for solutions; they will understand how to approach change in the optimal way."