Penn student starts effort to help women enroll in Medicaid before leaving Philly prison

    A new program at Riverside Correctional Facility in Philadelphia will help inmates fill out a Medicaid application before they leave. (Bastiaan Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

    A new program at Riverside Correctional Facility in Philadelphia will help inmates fill out a Medicaid application before they leave. (Bastiaan Slabbers/for NewsWorks)

    Kriya Patel, a college senior from Wisconsin, has figured out how to employ herself next year and help women behind bars.

    To win the President’s Engagement prize at the University of Pennsylvania, students pitch an idea they want to pursue in the year after graduation.

    Patel’s idea was to set up shop in the county jail in Philadelphia and help women fill out Medicaid applications. She won nearly $100,000 to launch the program this summer.

    “If you don’t know something or you fill out the application wrong, then it’s not going to get approved, and then you are back to square one, and you have to find time again to sit down and redo the application,” Patel said.

    In Pennsylvania and many other states, an inmate’s medical assistance is cancelled when she enters jail. When she leaves it can take several weeks to get the benefit “turned back on.”

    “Currently at Riverside Correctional Facility, two-thirds of the women are medicated for behavioral health problems, so this is why the continued access to health care is so important to facilitating re-entry,” Patel said.

    Women are supposed to leave jail with a five-day supply of drugs and two prescriptions, but, without health coverage, ex-offenders can’t stay on their medication.

    The experts who help former inmates find jobs and housing say those efforts are jeopardized if a woman is unstable.

    Patel, who intends to hire help, said her goal is to process about 18 applications each day. The program begins this summer.

    Bruce Herdman, medical director at the county jail, says other pilot programs are providing similar assistance to those with HIV and inmates with serious mental illness.

    About 30,000 men and women are released from the city jails each year. Herdman said nearly 47 percent of them leave within two weeks.

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