October 1, 2019
College of Community Health Sciences faculty, resident physicians, medical students and graduate students took part in a Community Action Poverty Simulation held in September at The University of Alabama Ferguson Student Center. The poverty simulation mimicked what it would be like to live for one month in a low-income household.
The simulation took place in the ballroom where tables were arranged around the room and volunteers manned stations that represented work, school, social services, the bank, grocery store, pawn shop and many other common community locations. Participants were divided into family units, given identifications and assigned a job or school to attend.
Each family was issued a budget and a set of rules to abide by. If a family member missed work, then the family did not receive money that week and had to try and feed the family by other means. The simulation also works to recreate the cost of living by including check cashing fees and afterschool activities.
“I think they are realizing how policies and systems of bureaucracy can impact how you need to think about families when you are writing policies and you need to think about untended consequences of those policies,” said Dr. Lea Yerby, associate professor of community medicine and population health at CCHS, who attended the simulation with students from her Health Policy course.
Additionally, families were given a limited number of transportation cards to mimic the greatest detriment to low-income families in Alabama, where there is no access to affordable public transportation.
“I think sometimes it can be easy both in medical school training and in residency training to focus on what can be fixed medically,” said Dr. Anne Halli-Tierney, a practicing geriatrician at University Medical Center and assistant professor of family, internal, and rural medicine at CCHS. “Sometimes you lose sight of what patients might be going through outside the clinic walls and some of the barriers they may be facing.” CCHS operates UMC.
The poverty simulations take place twice a year for the general public, but program specific simulations can be scheduled. The simulations can take place with between 30 and 80 people.
The simulations take about four hours to complete and are designed to frustrate the participants with the challenges they face. There are additional luck-of-the-draw cards given to family units at random that mimic the random benefits and pitfalls that happen in life, said Bailey Duke, coordinator of volunteer management, who ran the simulation.
The Community Action Poverty Simulations have taken place for about four years and are run by the UA Center for Service and Leadership.