On Tuesday, October 25, healthcare experts Hilary Schneider ’96 and Erin Guay came to Bates college to talk about public health policy debates taking place within the Lewiston Community. The talk was the second in the “Theory In Practice” series this year, sponsored by the Harward Center.
The talk began with Peggy Rotundo, the Director of Strategic and Policy Initiatives at the Harward Community Center. “The purpose of this series is to provide people with the opportunity to learn more about some of the important policy-debates that are taking place in the US Congress, the Maine State House, and in state-level communities,” said Rotundo.
The first speaker was Erin Guay, a Bowdoin graduate and the executive director of Healthy Androscoggin, a non-profit here in Lewiston. “Essentially our job is to look at the community’s health needs and to try to fulfill them,” started Guay. “We are 95% grant funded and because of that we can’t do quite as much lobbying work as we’d like to.”
Healthy Androscoggin has five main issues that pertain to the Lewiston-Auburn community: childhood lead poisoning, physical activity promotion, healthy eating, substance abuse, and tobacco. They approach legislators as educators, not as lobbyists, since it is illegal for a nonprofit to lobby legislators. Guay went on to list two of the recent bills Healthy Androscoggin has worked on in the past year. Per Guay, “the first one is LD 1542, which is an act to support lead abatement in older residential properties.”
Lewiston-Auburn has one of the highest childhood lead poisoning rates in the state of Maine. In 2008, the rate for L/A was three times the state rate, but over the past eight years there has been a 32 percent decrease in childhood lead poisoning. Guay added, “for those who don’t know, the reason why we have such a huge lead problem is because we have old housing in Lewiston-Auburn. It creates a real problem for our community because the lowest income folks tend to live in the housing that’s in the poorest quality. Our refugees and immigrants tend to move into those properties and then try to find a way out.”
Guay went on to summarize the bill that she worked on to prevent this issue. The idea behind the bill is to create revenue so that the Maine State Housing Authority can provide funding to municipalities with the highest rates of lead poisoning. With the proper funding, landlords can address lead issues on their properties.
After Guay, Schneider spoke about how she became the current Director of Government Relations for the American Cancer Society Action Network in Maine.
“Basically, I landed in this world of advocacy and policy by accident. I wanted to move back to Maine and was just looking for any job where I could use my policy and economics background,” said Schneider. Since landing in Maine, she has been working on access to care advocacy.
“So when I started at the Cancer Action Network,” Schneider continued, “I basically started after they enacted the Affordable Care Act… you may not know this, but [the ACA] was modeled after health reform that was done in Maine years ago under what was known as Dirigo Health. So Maine was the first state in the nation that passed a piece of universal health care legislation.”
“Part of my job in the state is to help teach people whose lives have been impacted by cancer with how they can enact policies. Largely how we view our role as is putting a face on these issues so that lawmakers aren’t just looking at legislation in an ivory tower,” Schneider said.
Schneider put it best when she said that “access to healthcare should not be a partisan issue. Everybody, regardless of what party, gets impacted by something. One in two men and one in three women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point in their lifetime.”
For anyone interested in becoming more active in current public health policy debates, Peggy Rotundo encourages those interested to come to her office at the Harward Center. The issue of healthcare will also be on the ballot this Election Day, November 7 with Question 2, which would require Maine to expand Medicaid.