Health Fellow Spotlight: Ar'Sheill Monsanto

Meet Ar’Sheill Monsanto, a 2024 Aspen Ideas: Health Fellow and the Vice President of Strategy and Partnerships for Link Health. Learn how she's bringing healthcare, higher education, and community stakeholders together to help people in underserved neighborhoods enroll in vital benefits they're eligible for.

  • June 1st 2024

Through innovative partnerships and technologies, Ar’Sheill Monsanto and the Link Health team are dedicated to improving access to and enrollment in resources for healthcare, energy assistance, and nutrition support, in order to foster healthier communities for all. This summer, she will join nearly 100 fellows at Aspen Ideas: Health to engage in conversations on health's biggest topics. We caught up with Ar’Sheill ahead of the event to learn how she's putting this big idea into action.

Tell us about your big idea!

Annually, there are billions of dollars of aid and federal benefits designed to help the most vulnerable populations in America – including healthcare coverage, utility assistance, nutrition services, internet access, and housing support. However, the funding is untapped because people may not know they are eligible, the application processes are typically cumbersome, and enrolling in the programs can be difficult to navigate. That’s why my team at Link Health is working to unlock access to these benefits, which can significantly address the social determinants of health, by meeting people where they are. Through partnerships, the health industry, higher education sector, and community stakeholders can work together to get these vital resources to the people who need them most.

For decades, there has been little change in the way people navigate and access the benefits they are eligible for. How is Link Health innovating to create change?

Link Health is working to innovate how families access federal benefits in multiple ways. For starters, our remarkable team has beta-tested an in-house AI platform that integrates data from various sources, including government databases, various benefits applications, and user-provided information. From there, we can use that data to generate a universal application that families can use to apply for multiple federal benefits at once. We noticed that many applications ask for the same information to determine program eligibility with very little nuisance. By figuring out how to streamline that process and remove redundancy, we can get patients enrolled in these programs in the waiting rooms before they see their doctor. 

How have partnerships helped Link Health establish trust and maximize impact with the people you serve?

We center our work around two main partnerships. The first is a partnership with clinics and community health centers. They provide us with designated space in their clinics and access to their patients when they are in the waiting rooms. This symbiotic relationship gives us credibility and helps us quickly establish trust with the community. The other key partnership is with local colleges and universities. We deploy pre-medical students, social workers, and students wanting to pursue careers in public health or policy. These students are the backbone of our work! They are the ones serving in the community, forging relationships with patients, and conducting the actual application assistance. In return, these students earn a stipend, hours for their practicums, or service learning hours for their program of study. They also receive valuable training in community organizing tactics which are vital skills for emerging leaders that can change the world someday.

Bridging the digital divide has been one of your priorities. Why is that such a critical element to addressing the health equity gap?

Internet access has emerged as a super social determinant of health. Access to the internet profoundly shapes health outcomes by impacting traditionally acknowledged social determinants of health, including education, employment opportunities, and access to healthcare services. Still, many underserved communities lack reliable and affordable Internet, which limits their ability to utilize telehealth services as treatment options and preventive care measures. Imagine a mom of three, having to tow her entire family to a clinic because the youngest child has an ear infection. A virtual doctor visit and a prescription for antibiotics can be an easy solution if she has access to the Internet. Bridging the digital divide ensures everyone has equal access to this crucial resource, regardless of socioeconomic status or location.

Your model is being piloted in some select U.S. cities. What successes have you seen within those communities?

Link Health is nascent in our existence but our pilots in Texas and Massachusetts have yielded great results. The most noteworthy accomplishment is that our team helped over 10,000 families acquire over $527,535 in federal assistance. Success is contingent upon the strong relationships we are building with clinics and community health centers and our ability to partner with universities to train their students who will be entering the medical and social services and public health fields in the future. In Texas, we partnered with Legacy Community Health at their clinics throughout Houston. This institution is the largest Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Texas and by working together we get resources to the most vulnerable populations. In Massachusetts, we have established partnerships in over 10 different clinics. This partnership allowed us to serve diverse populations that speak various languages like Portuguese, Haitian Creole, Cape Verdean, Arabic, Korean, Vietnamese, and Mandarin. This endeavor was possible through philanthropy and federal funding. Working together has allowed us to unlock resources for people who need it the most and that’s what matters most!

When you envision a healthier future for all, what does it look like? What is the role of Link Health in making that vision a reality?

Digital platforms and online resources can be powerful tools for improving health. At Link Health we actively seek to assist eligible people in the navigation and enrollment in benefit programs that address crucial needs like access to affordable internet, food access, healthcare support, and housing resources using new technologies. 

We recognize that to do this we need to continuously utilize community-centered approaches that leverage data and technology like AI tools. We believe innovating the enrollment process will reduce barriers and connect underserved populations to the benefits. This will lead to improved economic stability and health outcomes.

We see our role as innovators charged with figuring out the best route to increase enrollment and retention rates for better outcomes. How can we help address the medical drivers of health like food security, access to healthcare, housing stability, and utility assistance? This challenge requires us to constantly monitor progress, implement feedback, and continually evaluate to refine strategies and expand the reach of these initiatives over time.


The views and opinions of the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Aspen Institute. 

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