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  • Upper East Tennessee Human Development Agency

Success Story: Helping children get healthcare insurance in Tennessee

My story begins in April of 2020 during the first year of the COVID pandemic in Hancock County. The number of cases were low to start with, but none-the-less we started getting some. The citizens here, like everywhere else, were terrified and prayed that COVID 19 would just go away. Businesses started following safety protocols, including UETHDA.

I was working from home and had to learn how to recruit through social media, and any way I could find, to get the word out that Head Start was taking applications.

The HUGS (Help Us Grow Successfully) program, part of the Hancock County Health Department called me with a referral for two children; siblings that were living with their grandmother and in need of Head Start services. During our conversation she said she was going to the home and asked if I would like to come along. I jumped at the opportunity to meet the family.

At the meeting location the nurse said, “You will not need your laptop. There is no cell coverage and we might have to go via 4-wheeler if the road is washed out from the spring rains.” I must admit, in my mind I was questioning riding on the back of a 4-wheeler with the nurse, but decided to give her the benefit of the doubt.

We get to the road to the children’s home and it looked a bit scary to me. The nurse said, “Well I think I can get there, its not washed out too bad.” So here we went! When we got to the home, the children were playing in the yard and welcomed the HUGS Nurse with open arms. The grandmother was just as glad to see the nurse and invited us into her home. As it turned out, I knew the grandmother.

After we explained our safety protocols we had to follow, the Grandmother said, “Let me gather up some chairs and we can visit in the yard.” I explained the documents I would need with the application and walked around with my phone trying to get a signal, but with no luck. So we made an appointment to meet at the local health department to finish the application process.

The day of the appointment the family was a no show, and I had no way to contact them. After discussing my problem with the HUGS Nurse, she said the only way to contact the family was go back to the home or mail a letter. I decided I would go back to the home – bad idea! The road was badly washed out. As I was traveling down the ridge, I met grandpa. I waved for him to pull over and told him about my predicament. He offered to take me to the home if I wanted a ride and I gladly accepted. Back at the home I asked the grandmother about the missed appointment. She told me that the youngest child did not have a Social Security card or insurance, and the road was so bad, she thought it would be best to not show up. This started my determination to acquire the cards needed for the child.

My first step was getting guidance on how to start the process. I found the necessary files online, filled them out and traveled again back to the home for a third time to get the necessary documents and signatures. I filed a request with Social Security and TennCare and each time was turned down, because they needed more documentation.

I began to understand the problem when I spoke to the children’s father. He’d been incarcerated and was just recently released. The custody papers he gave me were different than the grandmother’s power of attorney papers. I made a phone call to the Social Security office in Morristown and explained the situation. He was helpful and gave me a list of documents I needed to collect to file for a Social Security card. “Dad” and I then began the collection process of original documents, not copies, including the father’s birth certificate. He did not have one, nor the money to obtain it from the Health Department. Fortunately, I found a resource to pay for his birth certificate, but dad would have to pick it up.

Once more, I filed for the social Security card and once again I was turned down. This time I was told the name on the custody papers did not match the name on the birth certificates.

I went to the courthouse in Sneedville to talk to judge Micah Wallen about the situation. He gave me the name of the CPS worker for the family’s case and gave me a contact number. He stated he did not have the authority to change the papers but would discuss it with his boss about getting the names changed. A few weeks later, the CPS worker called back and said he was told it was impossible to change the names on the document without going back to court. So I contacted Judge Floyd, whose seal was on the documents, and told him of the situation. He said he would investigate the situation and would get back to me in a few days. After 2 weeks he called me back and told me how to obtain the corrected documents. Around February of 2021, with help from Health Coordinator Kimberly Jones, I received a letter from Social Security stating to expect the card in the mail in about 6 weeks. I received the child’s Social Security card in the mail almost a year from the start of the process.

During this process of obtaining the cards the child’s teeth had gotten worse. We’d searched for a resource to pay for the child’s dental work, but found none. I then requested Head Start to pay for it, and they agreed. Now, I had to find a dentist office that was willing to work with us on payment. Dandridge Pediatric Dentistry in Dandridge TN agreed to take the child as a patient to help alleviate the cavity pain until insurance was obtained.

In April, Dad proudly presented me with a TennCare insurance card for the child. At his request, I called Morristown Pediatric Dentistry to inquire about them accepting the child as a patient. Since the oldest sibling already went there, they readily accepted the youngest sibling as a patient as well.

To catch you back up on the COVID pandemic in Hancock County, the numbers were steadily growing in our small county. Sadly, we did have a few deaths. There was a mask mandate, businesses closed their doors, people were out of work and needed help with electric bills, food and rent.

The closest pediatrician is over the mountain. Thank God for the vaccine being developed because it allowed me to help with transportation of the siblings to get their dental work and other healthcare needs.

Many of the families that I work do not own a car or have a license. The choice I made to take the vaccine not only protected my personal family, but it helped me to to provide assistance to my Head Start families. The siblings received much needed health services, including: dental surgery, vision, physicals, and even surgery to remove a tick from inside a child’s ear canal. This is my biggest accomplishment for the 2020/2021 school year.

I was able to maintain full enrollment for the school year, and for most of the year, I had 18 children enrolled –14 in the classroom & 4 virtual. It has been a struggle with the pandemic. Quarantines did not help anything but I got through it. Head Start rocks!

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