SCOM Students Facilitate Community Forum on Access to Health

On Wednesday, April 2, students in Dr. Lori Britt’s course on Facilitating Community Engagement facilitated a public forum in Rose Library.

The goal was to give members of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities a chance to discuss and gain a better understanding of and new perspectives about how health is often not equally accessible to all citizens. The main question for the night focused on exploring together how we can educate and engage community members in all facets of healthcare and eliminate barriers to wellness, access to preventative and urgent care, and expand local resources to protect, promote and enhance quality of life.

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Honestly and thoughtfully being able to share these different perspectives is a goal of deliberative dialogue which Britt teaches in her course on Facilitating Public Engagement. The students in this semester’s course did research on the topic of access to health and summarized their findings from news sources, government policies and interviews in the following information which was distributed to all forum participants.

The discussion was focused on four main topics including: Defining Health, The National Situation, Virginia’s Situation, and the Harrisonburg and The Valley: Local View of Health.

Defining Health

Health is the absence of disease, illness, and infirmity and the presence of physical, social, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being interconnected with a flourishing community and a healthy and safe environment.

The National Situation

It’s difficult not to discuss about the Affordable Care Act when talking about the topic of health. There are multiple controversies discussed about this topic which included:

  • Most people are still very confused about their options and the enrollment that was expected has not yet materialized. However, according to Daily News Record coverage, the website to enroll for health care is steadily increasing in the local area


In Virginia

Virginia has several statewide programs to address the needs of some of the state’s poorest and far-flung residents including:

  • The State Rural Health Plan
  • FAMIS (Family Access to Medical Insurance Security)
  • Plan First
  • Virginia Medicaid

Local problem: Virginia hasn’t decided whether to expand Medicaid coverage. A Virginia committee has been formed to examine possible Medicaid expansion that would happen this summer.

Harrisonburg and The Valley: The Local View of Health

From the 2010 Health Community Council Assessment

  • Teen pregnancy rates for 15 to 17 year olds decreased in the City and County.
  • More Non-Latino adults and seniors are exercising at least five days a week.
  • Uninsured visits to Rockingham Memorial Hospital Emergency Department decreased slightly over the past four years.
  • The addition of the federally funded Harrisonburg Community Health Center, which opened in January 2009, offered more health care alternatives to the region’s uninsured and underinsured. In 2009, the Community Health Center (CHC) served 2,998 patients with 9,025 visits. In addition a second location opened on Port Republic Road in 2013.
  • Fewer adults perceived themselves as healthy compared to previous years. This is consistent with a state trend.


Talking with community members.

Some perspectives from stakeholder interviews with community members connected to health or healthcare:


  • There is a lack of availability of health care despite implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act.
  • Many felt that there is an increase in the amount of drug traffic along the route 81 corridors.
  • All stakeholders felt that costs and lack of staff at health facilities was a major challenge the Harrisonburg community faces
  • The perception is that we are doing well as a whole with community outreach and preventative care.
  • Communication between all partners needs to be consistent and all groups need to work towards a single goal of affordable healthcare for all as opposed to the fighting and bickering that is going on.
  • Virginia has done a state assessment by county/region to identify specific issues.  Community leaders are taking the initiative to set goals to address those issues. They believe that those communities need to work with the healthcare providers and hospitals together to promote health in the community.


The forum was attended by both students and community members and several conflicting perspectives about the commitment of JMU students to helping the community were voiced by community members. Some community members perceived JMU students as simply checking off required hours and calling it service and wanted students more longitudinally involved in helping address real community needs. Several other community members were impressed that students were interested in improving access to health and noted that students and community members share many values. Through an opportunity such as this one, students, faculty and community members were able to have a beneficial discussion.

Written by: Dr. Lori Britt / Edited by: Karen Kim and Colby Boone