Erie Family Health President and CEO Lee Francis, standing, leads a panel on health care for teens. RoundTable photo

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Officials from Erie Family Health Centers joined other local healthcare advocates for a forum on health care issues faced by Evanston youth at a March 22 gathering at Evanston/Skokie Health Center.

Erie President and CEO Lee Francis M.D., M.P.H., moderated the panel, which included Erie Chief Operating Officer Amy Valukas, M.P.H.; Adam Hill of Metropolitan Family Services; and Alice Setrini, a staff attorney at  Legal Assistance Foundation (LAF), which provides legal assistance to Chicago-area residents.

Ms. Valukas noted that Erie’s Evanston facility sees about 6,600 patients annually, of whom about one in six is an adolescent. For many of them, it is the first time they are developing their own relationship with a health-care provider. Among the frequent obstacles to their care, she noted, are concerns about confidentiality, lack of transportation and finances and overall discomfort with medical personnel.

“This is really a moment in time for them to develop healthy behaviors,” she said. Among key concerns for young people who are as a whole generally healthy are rising rates of sexually-transmitted infections, youth violence and a preponderance of mental health issues, which include depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder.

As such, it is vital that providers clearly and thoughtfully communicate with patients. Mr. Hill said, “We have to allow these individuals to feel that they are going to be listened to, without judgement.”

Erie providers can link patients to wraparound services, such as the legal assistance LAF provides. Among the issues some clients are contending with, Ms. Setrini noted, immigration status.

“A lot of these households are mixed-status families,” she added. “That’s a piece of the patient’s health care, because it’s really stressful for them.”

Ms. Valukas noted that it is normal, and in fact preferable, for adolescents to want to advocate for their health issues and treatment choices. She added, “Adolescents’ lives are becoming more complex.”