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September 23, 2002

UMBC Alum Wins National Award for Health Care Reform Advocacy

When community activist and 1991 UMBC graduate Claudia Lennhoff takes the stage Sept. 24 in Washington, D.C., to receive a $120,000 award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for her work fighting for affordable healthcare for the uninsured, it will be the culmination of a personal struggle.

Lennhoff was diagnosed with cancer fourteen years ago while she was an undergraduate student at UMBC. She was between semesters that summer, and thus had no health insurance. While doctors urged her to seek immediate treatment, she was unable to find a physician in Baltimore willing to treat her without insurance.

Fortunately, her parents found a doctor in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas, who agreed to accept Lennhoff as his patient and she was able to make a full recovery. "While (beating cancer) is not the motivation behind my work, it allowed me to see that the failures of the health care system have a lasting psychological impact as well as posing a threat to physical health," Lennhoff says. "Being denied medical care leaves a real sense that one?s life is not considered important."

Lennhoff first became involved with the advocacy organization Champaign County Health Care Consumers (CCHCC) in 1995 while a graduate student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Lennhoff became a full time community organizer at CCHCC in 1997 and was later named executive director in 1999.

She and her staff of four have led their 600 active volunteers in reinstating a popular Medicare program that eliminated out-of-pocket medical costs for low-income seniors and disabled citizens. CCHCC also worked to force the University of Illinois to provide contraceptive coverage for its employees.

Lennhoff was chosen to receive one of 10 Robert Wood Johnson Community Health Leadership Program awards from 463 nominees across the country. The $120,000 award includes $105,000 for Health Care Consumers and $15,000 as a personal award to Lennhoff. Lennhoff says that CCHCC plans to use a significant portion of the their award to set up an endowment that could help ensure the future financial solvency of the organization. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will honor her in a September 24 ceremony in Washington, D.C.

Posted by dwinds1 at September 23, 2002 12:00 AM