SIU med students go through a month of poverty in 80 minutes

The State Journal-Register
Published Sept. 01, 2011 @ 5:20 a.m.

Linda and Larry Locke were two months behind on their mortgage, and their lender wanted to be paid — now. Larry’s take-home pay was only $310 a week, which made it hard to support a family that included his unemployed wife, their 15-year-old daughter and Larry’s disabled father-in-law.

The challenges that this and other fictional low-income families faced to find work, afford food and shelter, care for their children and deal with unexpected problems played out Wednesday in a poverty simulation conducted by Southern Illinois University School of Medicine.

The simulation was offered for the first time to about 60 people, most of them young doctors going through SIU’s internal medicine residency program.

Organizers say they hope the activity will produce doctors who are more aware of the needs of low-income families.

“You have an idea of what they go through,” chief resident Dr. Jacob Thomas, 27, said after the event, held at Lincoln Land Community College’s Trutter Center. “It’s different when you actually experience it.”

“Poverty is basically a chronic illness,” said Ross Silverman, chairman of medical humanities.

Awareness of poverty’s effects can change which drugs physicians prescribe, how they communicate with patients and how they refer patients to other organizations for help, Silverman said.

During the simulation, one month of living was divided into four 20-minute weeks. The simulation required family members to accomplish tasks — such as going to work, going to school, applying for food stamps — by reporting to stations manned by providers of those services.

Low-income volunteers from local not-for-profit groups staffed the stations. They later told the group that the hassles doctors experienced during the simulation are true to life: Scrambling to pay bills, getting evicted, using a homeless shelter, waiting in line for welfare services, sometimes becoming victims of crime.

Springfield resident Darnisha Newman, 17, a Springfield Urban League client expecting her second child in October, played the part of a mortgage broker. She said she thought it was good for doctors to get a flavor of “what other families go through.”

First-year resident Dr. Sam Hutson, 28, played the part of 15-year-old Lilly Locke, who got suspended from school for fighting. He said Wednesday’s event made him even more aware of families “living paycheck to paycheck. We couldn’t get ahead.”


Poverty facts

*One out of every seven people in the United States lived in poverty in 2009.

*One out of every eight Sangamon County residents lived in poverty in 2009.

*One out of every five children in Sangamon County lived in poverty in 2009.

*43.6 million people lived in poverty in the United States in 2009. This is the highest level of poverty since 1994.

*In Sangamon County, about 26,000 people were in poverty in 2009, a 50 percent increase compared with 1999. There were about 9,500 Sangamon County children in poverty in 2009 — a 62 percent increase compared with 1999.

*Lists of community services available to low-income people in the Springfield area are available online.


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