Sijia Zhang

Thesis: Learning the Ropes: How the Health Advocates Volunteers Navigate Alameda Health System's Safety Net

The Health Advocates Program of the Alameda Health System is a volunteer- based organization comprised of mostly undergraduates. Volunteers assist patients of the Alameda Health System, primarily Highland Hospital, with applying for public benefits and searching for affordable housing. Patients of the Health Advocates Program are largely low-income, unstably housed, and enduring a multitude of health issues. This thesis analyzes the interplay between health, society, and disenfranchisement through in-depth, qualitative interviews with the Health Advocates Program volunteers and affiliated providers. As expressed in the interviews, the tremendous financial, housing, and emotional insecurities vulnerable patients face are embedded not in the characters of the patients themselves, but in structures and symbolic systems. This research explores how the Health Advocates volunteers try to catch the patients that fall through the safety net, and how they grapple with these realities as future healthcare providers themselves.