The Anchorage Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) provides access to fundamental health care services for thousands of at-risk and underserved citizens. The safety net services we provide help the most vulnerable in our society: children and infants, women, seniors, people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees. DHHS understands that to support public health, advances are needed not only in health care but also in education, childcare, affordable housing, workforce development, community planning, safe neighborhoods and transportation. Through this comprehensive lens, DHHS contributes to the health and social justice of our community in many ways, from providing medical treatment to nutrition education.
At DHHS, we believe that access to health care is a human right; that access to food is a human right; and that access to safe housing is a human right. Our work every day in our clinics, in our community, and on the streets reflects the goal of the ACF Social Justice Fund. We believe government should be a leader in creating a more just and equitable Alaska and DHHS is the department that is poised to do this. But we cannot do this without your support. Your donation will enable us to establish a badly needed Language Access Plan, to work towards eliminating language-based discrimination and enable all residents, workers and visitors to receive equivalent information and services; regardless of what language they speak.
Language Access Plan: In 2016, 723 of the patients that visited our clinic spoke a primary language other than English, and we provided interpreter services 454 times. We use a national interpreter line for over 50% of our clients, from senior housing assistance to the WIC supplemental nutrition assistance and education. The need for language access cannot be emphasized deeply enough. From Sudanese and Somali daycare providers that must interact with our child care licensing staff, to Hmong farmers who need to understand our food regulations, to Korean-speaking restaurant owners and refugees who need immunizations for their children to attend school. It is a daily, even hourly need.
Increase civic engagement in under-represented communities: Understanding codes and regulations is a barrier to participation for people who speak English; and multiplied for limited English proficient (LEP) individuals. For example, the Municipal Code needs to be amended to include food made in home kitchens. Many immigrant LEP families with small food or produce businesses will be directly affected by this and need to be part of the conversation. Engaging these underserved citizens in re-shaping policies that affect them will create opportunities for them to become participants in the process, not just bystanders. This positive experience with local government will lead to further inclusion and opportunities to serve on a commission, work for the city and run for office.