Editor’s note: This story is part of an occasional Milwaukee Neighborhood News Service series that highlights groups and people worth knowing in Milwaukee. To nominate a person or a group, email email@example.com and put "Spotlight" in the subject line.
Gloria Edwards, a client and patient at City on a Hill since 2011, dabs the corner of her eyes with a tissue when she talks about the impact the nonprofit has had on her life.
"I don’t think I’d still be alive if I hadn’t been coming here. I didn’t have any insurance," Edwards said.
According to Kids Forward, an advocacy group for Wisconsin communities and families, Edwards is one of 323,000 Wisconsinites without insurance.
But the 65-year-old is not uninsured for lack of trying.
Edwards tried to enroll in BadgerCare, a subsidized healthcare plan for Wisconsinites living significantly below the federal poverty level, but was disqualified.
Edwards said two things made her ineligible: her part-time job and receiving her late husband’s death benefits.
When Edwards tried again to get insured, she was told she would have to pay up to $700 a month. With a part-time job that pays $10 an hour, this wasn’t an option.
"It’s just hard. I tried to get insurance, but I couldn’t afford it," Edwards said.
Edwards was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Forced to choose between her job and her health, Edwards started going to City on a Hill for primary care.
Though Edwards did not qualify for insurance, she was able to get the medicine she needed through City on a Hill. This is because City on a Hill specializes in working with people like Edwards — who are left out of the health insurance system.
The faith-based nonprofit also provides services unrelated to healthcare, including children’s programs that help develop leadership skills and free family events for Milwaukee residents. The mission of the nonprofit, located at 2224 W. Kilbourn Ave., is to help break the cycle of poverty in Milwaukee.
In 2016, City on a Hill renovated its free clinic, which is staffed by volunteer physicians. The goal of the clinic is to provide a medical "home" for the homeless: that is, people without insurance.
In addition to the free clinic, the nonprofit also hosts a health outreach event the second Saturday of every month. The event pools together health professionals and resources, providing everything from dental checkups to blood pressure tests.
Putting the "care" in healthcare
Virginia Allen is the medical assistant at City on a Hill. It’s her job to sign patients up with BadgerCare and help them make medical appointments.
At a health outreach event, Allen spoke about the importance of having insurance. Allen said going to the emergency room for health concerns becomes a default for some people, and to their detriment.
"The doctors (at the ER) don’t know you," Allen said. "They don’t know your condition. They only met you for five minutes. Your primary care doctor knows your history and is better able to take care of you."
Brooke Chapman, operations director at City on a Hill, said foregoing insurance and going to the emergency room is a habit borne out of a lack of resources.
"In all honesty, we work a lot with people who are in generational poverty," Chapman said. "So if you’re just sick and you just always go to the ER, that’s just what you do."
Chapman said even if a person has insurance, it can be extremely difficult to find the transportation and childcare to make it to a visit.
Diane De La Santos, the executive director of City on a Hill, said healthcare is more than having a primary care provider.
Healthcare "is walking with people through the process of learning to take care of their health in a different way," she said.
"You’re seen, you’re given advice, you’re given medications, you’re given exercises, and you don’t follow through," De La Santos said. "What (healthcare providers) need to understand is if you’re living at a level of poverty, today is more important than the future."