The robocall went out this week to every parent of an Oakland public school student:
“Hello! This is the Oakland Unified School District calling to remind you that March 31st is the deadline for enrolling in health insurance … The OUSD Central Family Resource Center is here to help.”
The day after that call went out the Central Family Resource Center, housed in a small portable building. was swamped. Over a 100 calls came in and 30 families dropped by.
“We’re just getting flooded with calls and people dropping in asking for appointments so we’re all hands on deck trying to respond to the demand,” said Eliza Schiffrin, the center’s program coordinator.
Oakland parent Gabino Pablo came in to sign up for coverage for himself, and Medi-Cal for his 5 week old daughter. He said he knew the deadline was looming, but has no internet access at home.
“I don’t speak much English. I am Mayan, my second language is Spanish and it’s hard,” said Pablo. “A lot of people need help [signing up]. When I go home from here, I am going to tell people I know and send them over here.”
Pablo estimates that only 1 in 10 of the adults in his immediate community are signed up for health insurance.
Schiffrin says the center has taken their staff on the road, too, visiting individual schools to help people sign up.
Language and internet repeatedly came up as significant barriers for parents who came looking for help.
One Spanish-speaker who came into the center said that he had been trying to sign up for coverage through Covered California, but every time he called he was put on hold and told there were no translators available.
Father to an OUSD 8-year-old, he said that when he got the robocall message on his answering machine this week, he headed in immediately. Like Pablo, he has no internet at home.
And just as he was leaving, a Tibetan-language parent called looking for a translator and help signing up.
Joanna Locke, director of Health & Wellness for the Oakland Unified School District, said the resource center was not initially geared to Covered California. It got off the ground two years ago as part of an overall effort to sign families up for Medi-Cal, HealthPAC and the Kaiser Child Plan.
Locke said the district started the center because they believe that for some families seeking various social services, schools might feel like a safer place to sign up than, say, at a county office or other agency.
“We were rolling out the community schools model, which is the idea we are here to serve the whole child, and because families feel connected to their childrens’ school … we thought that it might be a successful place to try to reach families that weren’t enrolled,” said Locke.
The office is funded by Alameda County, through grants from the Atlantic Philanthropies and through Connecting Kids to Coverage.
The idea behind making health and wellness a priority for the schools is that healthy students will have improved attendance and be more successful learners.
Schiffrin said the OUSD push for health insurance is unusual for a school district.
“The county is using [our model] to expand into other schools districts. Both Hayward and San Leandro are looking to offer the service to families in their district, but I haven’t heard of it commonly offered in school districts,” said Schiffrin.
Once the deadline for Covered California passes, the Central Family Resource Center will continue to sign people up for Medi-Cal, CalFresh and HealthPAC and then will help with Covered California during each open enrollment period.
In the meantime, Schiffrin says the in person technicians are clearly welcome during what can be an overwhelming process.
“The [Covered California] website, as good as it is, can often be slow or have complications and a lot of people don’t have internet access. So having the assistance is making a big difference,” said Schiffrin.