For some people, even basic health instructions can be challenge.  Not because they don’t care about their health, but because their literacy issues often compound their health issues.

According to the Institute of Medicine, some 90 million Americans have difficulty understanding and using health information.  As a result, patients often take medication off-schedule, miss follow-up appointments and do not understand simple instructions like “take on an empty stomach.”  October’s Health Literacy Month shows us the importance of creating awareness of this important issue in ways that can help save lives and help avoid wasting billions of dollars in health care costs every year.

That’s why Junior Leagues take health literacy into their communities to reach people who need it most.
For 18 years, The Junior League of Salt Lake City has held CARE Fair, a program that brings together more than 50 different community agencies to provide families with basic health and human services.  Patients in need of help – either because they can’t afford the health and dental services the rest of us take for granted or have literacy or English as a second language issues – can talk with health professionals who can give guidance as well as care.

The Junior League of Charlotte’s Healthy Child Initiative (HCI) focuses on three key areas of children’s health: physical, dental and mental health.  The purpose of the project is to generate awareness of the physical, dental and mental health issues affecting children, remove the stigma associated with some of these problems and teach parents how to spot problems and where they can go for support.

The Junior League of Chattanooga works directly with low-income expecting mothers to teach them how to care and advocate for themselves and their unborn babies through the Healthy Starts: Baby Basics program.  The program, a partnership with Reading Education for Adult Development (READ) of Chattanooga, Inc., begins with education on Baby Basics and continues with a volunteer mentorship program called Pregnancy Pals.

The Junior League of Erie’s Baby Go Round program teaches parents and caregivers about the prevention and treatment of infant positional head flattening, or Flat Head Syndrome.   Flat Head Syndrome is a common term that refers to a variety of medical conditions caused by a baby spending too much time on its back in one position resulting in any number of long term problems such as increased risk for learning  delays and developmental issues.

The Junior League of Greenwich, in collaboration with other local organizations, designed a support and education program, Caregiver Circle, that teaches care-givers of seniors and other adults about issues surrounding care-giving.  Information and insight is provided by professionals and participants also learn about community resources available to care-givers of adults.

The Junior League of Monroe, in collaboration with the Families Helping Families, provides a volunteer mentor to first-time mothers and mothers of infants in neonatal intensive care.  Mentors, who are also mothers, make contact with postpartum mothers while still in the hospital and provide support for at least three months or more, if requested.  Mentors share their experiences with postpartum mothers, talk to them about breast feeding, infant care, how to access medical services, answer any questions that the parents may have and connect them with appropriate medical care providers for answers to medical questions.

All of which goes to show that the key for staying healthy for many in our society is education and health literacy.  And we can help!