“Half of the Patients We Work with Are Now Facing Serious Financial Difficulties”

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“Half of the Patients We Work with Are Now Facing Serious Financial Difficulties”

Karin Underwood, MBA ’19, founded CoachMe to help low-income Americans improve their health-related behaviors.
August 6, 2020
Illustration of a person doing workout with weights guided by a personal trainer on their laptop. Credit: Irene Servillo
Illustration by Irene Servillo

During the COVID-19 outbreak, we’ve seen a doubling in engagement with our remote health coaching.

Karin Underwood, MBA ’19
Illustration of Karin Underwood. Credit: Agata Nowicka
Portrait by Agata Nowicka

Karin Underwood is the founder of CoachMe Health, a nonprofit with a mission to address the health disparities facing low-income Americans. CoachMe provides access to culturally sensitive, remotely delivered health coaching that helps those without insurance and on Medicaid build healthy behaviors that can improve diabetes and other chronic conditions.

CoachMe’s patients are essential workers. They’re the janitors and construction workers. They’re the people who are still going to work and putting themselves at risk. They don’t have remote work opportunities, which means that if they’re not at work, they’re staying home with a loss of income.

There’s a patient whom I’m personally coaching. She worked at a restaurant and lost her job the first week of the pandemic and was at home with her family. I helped her identify some new physical activity options, which included doing Zumba with her grandchildren. They started calling her the “fun grandmother.” So it was gratifying for her and helped her reduce stress, find joy, and manage her diabetes.

I founded CoachMe because I saw the gap in the disparities that are at the heart of health equity. In the U.S., those who are low-income face a 10- to 15-year gap in life expectancy from those who are high-income. A significant amount of that gap is driven by health-related behaviors like diet, exercise, and lifestyle. CoachMe is focused on scaling health coaching — a proven way to build healthy behaviors — to people who are uninsured and on Medicaid.

During COVID-19, being patient-first means adapting to the needs that are emerging related to chronic diseases. We’ve done more coaching focused on mental health and reducing stress, because 20% of patients are experiencing mental health challenges. We’re also connecting people to resources in their communities, since they have fewer work opportunities. About 40% are struggling with financial concerns, like paying the rent, and we’ve connected many to rent relief. We’ve seen how the strain of the crisis affects patients far beyond the virus itself.

Current data shows that Hispanics, which make up a large percentage of our patients, are acquiring COVID-19 at unusually high rates. Minority populations also are more likely to have more severe levels of chronic disease, such as type 2 diabetes, which afflicts 34 million Americans. We know how to manage and reduce the effects of diabetes, so our focus is on delivering solutions to those who need it most.

As we all struggle to respond to the pandemic, I’m grateful to be taking steps to create a more equitable world. I get to do that for my job, every day. It’s a true gift and something I don’t take for granted.

— Told to Steve Goldbloom

Karin

 
 
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