Written by Jennifer ‘Kiana’ Abel;
AmeriCorps Member, Wisconsin HealthCorps, NorthLakes Community Clinic- Iron River
NorthLakes Community Clinic
Often people face barriers that keep them from achieving their best health. Barriers include poverty, lack of education, discrimination, and living environment hazards like pollution and scarcity of healthy foods. These factors are known as the Social Determinants of Health and refer to circumstances in people’s lives that interfere unfairly with choosing, affording, and living a healthy lifestyle.
One social determinant of health that can make healthcare more challenging for individuals is literacy. Literacy refers to a person’s ability to read and write, and affects people’s function in society, their ability to achieve goals, and to develop knowledge. According to Wisconsin Literacy, one in four Wisconsin adults have low literacy skills.
“Imagine not being able to read or write and then trying to navigate a system that is complex for most educated adults.” – Ana Stoklasa, NorthLakes Resource Coordinator – Ashland Clinic.
Understanding insurance, medication and diagnoses is a challenge for many adults, regardless of reading level. Health insurance alone can prove to be a major obstacle for people who struggle with reading. During clinic visits, patients with lower reading levels can be at a disadvantage when they are asked to fill out lengthy forms. Misunderstanding can continue into the exam room where providers might use complicated terms to explain health issues. If the patient is given pamphlets rather than fully discussing a diagnosis or medication, they may struggle interpreting.
At NorthLakes Community Clinic it is our goal to identify barriers and provide services that level the playing field for those who need them. When it comes to literacy, we address it at many levels.
One example is that in 2017 NorthLakes Community Clinic implemented a grant-funded program for our medical clinics called ‘Reach out and Read’, where young patients are given a book at their well child check up to encourage families to read at home.
NorthLakes Community Clinic strives to diminish the literacy barrier on many levels, and although it may not affect you personally, health literacy does affect even the very educated. We work to improve the communication between providers and patients so that everyone can receive the highest quality of health care, regardless of education level.
 Wisconsin Literacy is an organization that serves Wisconsin communities by assisting member agencies with health literacy, workforce literacy and computer literacy in the State of Wisconsin. To learn more or find a local Wisconsin Literacy office, visit their website at www.wisconsinliteracy.org
NorthLakes Community Clinic (NLCC) provides medical, dental, mental health counseling, substance use disorder counseling, recovery services, chiropractic, speech therapy, occupational therapy, and prescriptions for patients. Community Health Centers provide care to everyone, including those with commercial insurance, those with government insurance (Medicaid and Medicare) and those without insurance. A sliding fee discount on services may apply for qualifying patients. NLCC has 11 clinic locations in Ashland, Balsam Lake, Hayward, Iron River, Minong, Turtle Lake, and Washburn. Clinics are open Monday through Friday. Call 888-834-4551 to make an appointment. NorthLakes Community Clinic is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.