I recently had the privilege of attending the annual #Cinderblocks5 event in Grantsville MD. Organized by the incredible Regina Holliday, this event is a blend of art school, community town-hall, healthcare update, and patient rally. It is definitely not your typical healthcare conference. This was my third year attending and every year I get more out of the event.
The only thing I can compare #Cinderblocks5 to is summer camp. Remember going to camp in the middle of nowhere – seeing old friends and meeting new ones while doing things you don’t normally do? That’s kind of what #Cinderblocks5 is like. It’s the only event on my calendar where I will hear a plea from an HIV-positive patient about the need for better access, followed by an update from a local community leader about the latest in affordable housing, followed by a walking tour with a park ranger.
Set in the idyllic hills of Northwestern Maryland, Grantsville is a tiny little community that is a stone’s throw from Interstate 68. It was historically a stop on the National Road (US Route 40) which once carried thousands of pioneers. The town of 800 is now home to a budding artisan community and has one of the best hidden gems of a restaurant I have ever eaten at – The Cornucopia Café.
Of course the town is now the home of my good friend Regina Holliday: speaker, tireless advocate and community leader. She is the force of nature who created the #TheWalkingGallery which I am honored to be a member of.
Although there is never a planned theme to #Cinderblocks5 events, one always emerges. For me, the theme of this year’s event was marginalized populations and their access (or lack of access) to healthcare. The first speaker was none other than Amy Edgar APRN, CRNP, FNP-C @ProfAmyE who spoke about her work pioneering mental health work at Children’s Integrated Center for Success @CICSuccess. Access to mental health services remains a challenge – especially for those who need it most: marginalized people.
We later heard from Heather Hanline, Executive Director of the Dove Center @dovecenter_gc – which provides safety, advocacy and counseling to survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. There is such a need (unfortunately) for these types of services in rural communities, a point made by Hanline several times in her impassioned presentation. Without the Dove Center, trauma survivors would have to drive miles into the big cities to get help.
We also heard from Robb Fulks @TheIncredibleF. Fulks is an incredible human being. For almost his entire life the odds have been stacked against him. He has numerous comorbidities including HIV. As if that is not enough he is coping on a shoestring budget. In the past Fulks has spoken out against the rising cost of life-sustaining medications that used to be <$20 and against exclusionary tactics by insurance companies. This year Fulks said the most powerful line at #Cinderblocks5:
Wow. Blown away by Robb Fulks statement “It’s only because of this group, this family that I find the energy/drive to go another year battling the diseases I have & healthcare system” #cinderblocks5 This is the power of connecting! #TheWalkingGallery #ABCD #pinksocks #hcldr
— Colin Hung (@Colin_Hung) May 17, 2018
Other speakers at #Cinderblocks5 included:
- Ashley Elliott a recovering addict (sober since 2012) who talked about how she battles the stigma in her small town and how there is a lack of recovery programs in rural communities
- Michael Mittelman @mike_mitt who highlighted how poorly living organ donors are treated by the healthcare system after their life-saving gift is given
- Jade Kenney and Kendra Brill who spoke about their struggle to build a safe haven (Rainbow Bridge Home – https://www.rainbowbridgehome.org/) for the LGBTQIA community in a rural setting and how they were/are both marginalized by “polite society”
Being at #Cinderblocks5 was a poignant reminder that: (a) art, music and reflection are as much a part of healthcare as IT, workflows and treatment regiments; (b) there is no substitute for in-person meetings; and (c) that we still have a lot of work to do when it comes to people at the margins of healthcare. Whether it’s because of economics, social norms, mental health issues or belief systems, there are many people who do not have access to healthcare that need our help. We cannot forget about these people when designing the health systems of the future and the Health IT solutions that will power them.