Getting to Know Maine Communities
My hometown of Bangor sits like the center of a compass amid Maine's many communities. With grandparents living in Mars Hill and Cape Elizabeth, I spent my holidays travelling to one end of the state or the other. I learned at an early age that each community in Maine is different, and that getting to know a community takes time and it requires building some trust. I'm lucky I had the opportunity to spend years practicing seeing what was most important to those communities so I could better understand the people who lived there. This practice of seeing and responding to Maine people and Maine communities is what both grounds and inspires my work at the Maine Health Access Foundation (MeHAF), and it is a key part of transforming the system for health care delivery in Maine and, ultimately, improving the health of Maine people.
MeHAF values the time staff spends in communities and believes the Foundation's work should be guided by the people it was created to serve; those who are uninsured and medically underserved. That commitment is evident from the Foundation’s actions. For example, one of the Foundation’s first activities was to hold listening sessions around the state in 2002. These listening sessions shaped MeHAF’s strategic approach because Maine people, many with significant health care needs of their own, encouraged the Foundation to focus on fixing the health care system instead of using the Foundation’s assets to pay for direct services or insurance coverage for a limited number of individuals.
More recently, the Foundation supported the creation of two reports that summarize individual's input on key issues: Maine Integrated Health Initiative: Maine People Speak About Health Care Integration, which focuses on what better integration of mental and physical health would look like, and Improving the Health of Maine People: Getting Down to Basics, which details the kind of simple information, resources and supports that would really make a difference in people’s health. These reports have helped to guide the Foundation’s program development and funding opportunities and have been widely shared with policy leaders and other partners.
MeHAF's day-to-day activities are also informed, deepened, and enriched by its statewide Community Advisory Committee (CAC). The CAC has up to 20 members from all over the state who serve up to two. CAC members reflect broad interests and experiences. Foundation bylaws require that at least two-thirds of the members represent the interests of medically underserved and uninsured populations, and one-third have expertise in providing health care for these same populations. They provide input into the planning, execution and evaluation of our work and help us to stay focused on the needs and experiences of our priority populations.
It’s this engagement with Maine communities and Maine people that has driven some of the Foundation’s most meaningful and effective work toward transforming the health care system and improving the health of Maine people. As MeHAF continues to think about the health of Maine’s communities, we invite you to tell us how you and your community are engaging uninsured and medically underserved people, in identifying community and health system strengths and needs, and how you’re working with community members to design improved systems of care that build on these strengths and meet these needs. What have you seen and done that you want us to learn from and that you want others to know about?