After caring for her ailing mother and getting firsthand experience with the challenges of America’s healthcare system, Mary Haley, an IBM territory solutions leader, volunteered at the Oakhurst Community Health Center near Atlanta, and got a more positive view of healthcare in the U.S.
Talking about the healthcare system in the United States can be a frustrating conversation, and possibly a baffling one for Americans and non-Americans alike.
But if you’re Mary Haley, a territory services and solutions leader for IBM in the United States, both personal and professional experience in the healthcare industry can lead you to take steps to make a positive change, even by helping with seemingly small things—because as she discovered, some solutions just take common sense.
Five years ago, while caring for her ailing mother, Mary got a crash course in navigating America’s healthcare system. “I walked the last nine months of my mother’s life through the journey in and out of emergency rooms, intensive care, regular hospitals, assisted living, and rehab,” says Mary. “I got a firsthand education—a PhD really—in how broken our approach to healthcare is.”
IBMers volunteered in Community Health Centers across the United States.
“When I went back to work after the experience with my mother, I decided to doubledown my efforts and really understand healthcare and how we can help transform it in the US,” she says.
23 million patients, 8,000 centers…and counting
In 2011, Mary answered the call by Dr. Kyu Rhee, IBM’s Vice President, Integrated Health Services, to participate in one of the company’s Centennial year of service projects—to volunteer in Community Health Centers (CHC) throughout the United States.
“IBM has a long tradition and history of volunteerism in the community and I discovered that many IBM employees had never heard of a health center,” says Dr. Rhee. “I wanted to connect them with the people and patients of the wonderful community health center world.”
The Community Health Center approach in the United States was formed in the 1960s to serve residents of public housing. Today, while CHCs still support uninsured and underserved patients, they have grown and expanded, providing primary and preventive care to over 23 million people in more than 8,000 communities throughout the U.S.
The IBM service project, conceived by Dr. Rhee and others, would offer IBM volunteers the opportunity to help in CHCs in several cities, including Boston, San Francisco, New York, Peekskill, Raleigh, and Rochester (Minnesota). In Mary’s case, the CHC where she chose to volunteer—the Oakhurst Community Health Center—was only eight miles from her home outside of Atlanta.
Mary was joined by four other volunteers to spend June 15, 2011—IBM’s designated Centennial Day of Service—at the Oakhurst center, while more than 40 other IBM volunteers participated in activities that same day at seven other CHCs across the United States.
Volunteers and patients alike, impressed and satisfied
Each CHC had a different volunteer project for the IBM teams. A volunteer group with Dr. Rhee at the William F. Ryan Community Health Center in New York read to children in the waiting room and demonstrated how to make healthy snacks. At the Oakhurst CHC, Jeffrey Taylor, the organization’s CEO, asked Mary to help with a patient satisfaction survey.
Possibly because of the patients that CHCs have served over the years—about twothirds of health center patients are minorities, a large percent have incomes below the poverty line and close to 40% have no health insurance—some have the perception that their quality of care is lower than other options. Mary’s experience at Oakhurst and the input from their patients tell a very different story.
“I was so impressed by Oakhurst,” Mary recalls. “The facility is large, professional, their specialties range from primary care to ophthalmology, they have a focus on