VALHALLA, N.Y. -- Unless you live day in and day out poor, you really can't know what it feels like.
But what if there was some way to simulate the experience?
That's precisely how 50 men and women who work in healthcare and community organizations across Westchester and in the lower Hudson Valley got to do recently in order to gain a better understanding of the people they serve.
In early November HealthlinkNY’s Population Health team sponsored a Blueprint for Health Equity poverty simulation event on the campus of New York Medical College in Valhalla.
Participants were able to find out what it is like to live for a month as a low-income family, trying to make ends meet for a month.
They assumed the roles of different families facing poverty and visited the doctor, went grocery shopping, and put together meals, with limited funds. They had to travel from place to place without a car, visit human services organizations, attend school, and more.
The exercise was designed to open the eyes of doctors, nurses, social workers, and community-based organizations to what many of their patients and clients deal with every day. It was to show how their circumstances affect their interactions with safety net providers.
“They saw firsthand what it’s like to live in poverty and how the difficulties of day-to-day life can impact someone’s healthcare access and choices,” said Phillip A. Ginter, director for Community Initiatives at HealthlinkNY.
“The poverty simulation was a great experience for me because in my work, I encounter families who go through what I encountered today. The exercise was really stressful; my chest literally hurt,” said Dr. Vanessa Sukra, a pediatrician with Caring Pediatrics of White Plains.
“As a physician, I stood here saying, 'How do people do it?’ People’s basic human needs should be met.”
“It’s an amazing experience for me, especially as a leader of an organization, to better understand the social determinants of the people we serve," said Patrice Wallace-Moore, chief executive officer at Arms Acres in Carmel.
HealthlinkNY is a nonprofit that connects healthcare providers to New York State’s health information network.