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Prescription for success: 'Transition' students benefit from Kaiser-PCC partnership
Photos and Story by James Hill
by Susan HerefordYvonne Fischer intensely wanted to go to school, but she couldn’t make it past the front gates of the drive into PCC’s Rock Creek Campus. The recently divorced mother of three turned back twice before she took the first step from her old life to a new one. "I came two times and stopped outside the gate,"she said, "but the third time, I made my cousin drive so I could make it all the way in. I’d never been to college before."She found the admissions office on a Friday, took the ASSET placement test on Saturday, and was guided to the New Directions program on Monday, a transition program which helps displaced homemakers and single parents gain employable skills. Since those first attempts to overcome her fear of college and a new future, Fischer has become surprisingly at ease in an academic environment and is targeting a career in accounting. She is currently in her fourth term at PCC and has taken increasingly larger class loads. She’s making ends meet with financial aid, a PCC Opportunity grant and child support from her ex-husband. "I have about another two years,"she said, "and with my youngest now going to kindergarten, I’ll be able to step up the pace."Fischer and her three daughters are also getting help through a unique partnership program between Kaiser Permanente and the college in which Kaiser provides health care coverage for single parents and displaced homemakers and their dependents while they are enrolled in the program. She is one of 244 students in the Portland-metro area and Salem participating through six Oregon community colleges. A total of 459 students and family members are currently enrolled statewide. PCC operates two transitions programs – New Directions at the Rock Creek Campus in Washington County and Project Independence at Cascade Campus in north Portland, enrolling approximately 50 students each term."It has taken a big burden off me how to come up with health care coverage and go to school,"said Fischer. "Me and my three girls are covered and it’s a godsend. I can concentrate on getting my degree."Fischer and several other New Directions students were recently interviewed by Kaiser Permanente for a video program the regional office is creating to showcase the Oregon program to their national board of directors. Other Kaiser regions are looking at the program, said Barney Speight, Kaiser Permanente’s director of public policy and government relations for the northwest region. "We’ve been sharing the history of the program and how we can partner with education and the community to help a unique group of people." Specifically, the national shortage in a number of health care fields has prompted discussions within Kaiser on how to expand the transitions program with an emphasis, through incentives, on training for much-needed health care careers in areas such as nursing and radiologic technology. The program started in 1990. Kaiser Permanente funds the program as a community benefit, with the goal of helping single parents and displaced homemakers achieve self-sufficiency by providing medical coverage to them and their children while they are undergoing training and education to regain self-sufficiency. The coverage is provided at no cost to the recipient and is set up for low-income households. Participants are eligible for two years, however can apply for an extension if they are still in training.Speight said the program changes lives. "We are very pleased with the history of the program in the region and we will continue it in the future,"he said. "This was an opportunity to do some very unique linkages with community colleges to bring a health support system to displaced women where retraining is needed, and with greater security."Fischer knows all about the security. "There is a lot less stress. Getting Kaiser through PCC gave me a lot of confidence to go to college."