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Health for All informs people of health insurance options

By Deidre Jacobson

Expressing his faith through service to community, Ralph DeCristoforo uses his skills to bring health-care access to all, opening connections even for people above the poverty level.

As the project coordinator for Health For All, he supervises efforts to connect uninsured people with health-care services. 

Ralph DeCristoforo

Ralph DeCristoforo

Health For All provides information, referral, connection and follow-up to those without health-care access, negotiating the maze of state programs, health care resources and bona-fide insurance options.

It is one of four organizations statewide addressing community health needs. 

“Everyone looks at income differently.  We try to weed through the programs,” Ralph said.  “We send out an application, review it and continue to assist an applicant through the process, advocating if necessary with calls to state financial workers.”

Community advocacy has been a common thread in Ralph’s life. 
“When asked as a kindergartner what I wanted to be when I grew up, I said, a garbage man, a policeman or a priest.  Even then I wanted to be someone who supports the community.”

Reared Roman Catholic, Ralph studied for the priesthood, but changed course to earn a bachelor’s degree in psychology.  He entered the Air Force, working in various positions, including resolving personnel issues in large units and as a community advocate. He married and is now a member of Manito United Methodist Church in Spokane.

In 1995, Ralph retired from the Air Force and was looking for a second career.  He began at the Northeast Community Center as a volunteer while working on his master’s degree in health policy administration from Washington State University.

The Health Improvement Partnership was a fledgling program at that time, he said.  In a discussion of Basic Health of Washington at a meeting Ralph attended, he learned that the state was thinking of closing the program for lack of participation. 

Ralph put a small piece in the Spokesman-Review and opened the floodgates.  Applicants began to pour into the Northeast Community Center in search of Basic Health.   In his last class at WSU Ralph developed a five-year plan for the Health Improvement Partnership and applied for a state grant. In 1998, Health for All became a reality.

Ralph’s team consists of four members who provide screening, referral and advocacy service to those who call. 

They contract with cultural and ethnic groups, provide community education and have trained more than 800 people throughout the state to assist with health care information and advocacy. 

Problems he encounters often involve misunderstandings

“People self-eliminate when wordings imply extreme poverty, such as the federal poverty level or medical indigent programs.  People think because they work or have an income, they would not qualify.  This is not the case for many programs,” Ralph said.

“About 10 percent of the people in Washington State are uninsured.  Of those, 50 to 75 percent are working.  The hardest person to insure is a single low-income person without a disability.”

“Our dilemma is based on a change in moral obligation.  Health care has become a business commodity, employer-based and insurance-centered.” Ralph said. 

“The charity system is not organized, not cost effective.  People who have no health insurance go to the hospital emergency room (ER), the most expensive service we have.  We formed the Partners for Care Program to connect people who use ER services for primary care with a primary care provider and health education.

“Dental services for those without insurance are also an ongoing problem.  Most dental plans are employer-based,” he said.  “Services for children are better than those for adults.  Some clinics provide sliding-fee services, complete for children, but for most adults without insurance, exams and extractions are all that is available.”

Ralph would like to connect the program with people who think they have no option for health care coverage, because there are more choices than most people realize.

 “I would also like to connect with churches as outreach centers.  We can come to congregations and speak, training people to screen and refer.  Churches are a logical link to reach those who have not heard, but who are in need,” he said.

When it comes to faith, Ralph said he “sees God in the community and in the earth.  Serving the community is serving God.”  So he believes that there should be no one without health care. 

For information, call 444-3066.

By Deidre Jacobson, Fig Tree writer - Copyright © May 2005