By David Liebler.
Located along a gritty street north of downtown, the Community Transition Center in San Diego County is bustling with activity. Only the locked gates remind you that the old motel now has a new purpose. Inside, dozens of probationers talk and hang out in small groups. Working among them is a social worker who has a goal of getting as many signed up for Medi-Cal health care as she can.
That social worker is 18-year veteran Susan Muro. She’s on the front lines of the County’s collaborative plan that focuses on enrolling individuals in sheriff’s custody or under probation supervision in Medi-Cal. It’s all part of the County’s comprehensive Live Well San Diego wellness strategy; a portion of that strategy focuses on improving the health of low-income residents. When the Affordable Care Act expanded Medi-Cal to single, low-income adults, a new population was eligible for health care. And San Diego County was quick to see the advantages. The county found that less than 10 percent of the male inmates ever had health insurance since they were 18 years old.
Many of the individuals the County is helping enroll in Medi-Cal are still behind bars; that coverage is active upon the inmate’s release. Social workers such as Muro also assist post-release probationers to ensure they not only have access to health care, but are able find a doctor and navigate the system. And that system can be overwhelmingly daunting to someone who has never had health insurance in his adult life.
Take Donald Dawson, for example. Recently released from jail, he is at the transition center awaiting placement in a more permanent facility. Dawson is excited that he is signed up for Medi-Cal — and now has coverage for the first time since he was under his father’s insurance as a youth. “Before I wouldn’t have any clue on even where to go to get it. … Having Medi-Cal is a good jump-start for me to get where I want to be.”
Dawson is not alone. More than 5,000 individuals in San Diego County have been enrolled since the program began in early 2014. About 85 percent of those applications have been approved.
The county staff involved in the program are quick to point out its success is due to the fact that it’s a group effort and is only working through the collaboration among the Health and Human Services Agency, Sheriff’s Department and Probation Department.
Kim Forrester, an operations chief for the county’s Health and Human Services Agency, sums up the value of this program: “Having individuals linked to health care saves the county money but most importantly, it provides ongoing health needs for that individual and saves the community the cost of health care. For example, the cost of emergency room services by having preventive care is so important.”
Utilizing Medi-Cal expansion to increase health care access – just one way that San Diego County is working with probationers to enhance their chances of being productive members of the community.