Aileen Luppert | Movers & Shakers 2020–Advocates

In 2013, as the Affordable Care Act was being implemented, the Obama administration asked librarians across the United States to help patrons find health insurance through the healthcare marketplace. Aileen Luppert, managing librarian of Spokane County Library District (SCLD), "was one of the first to answer the call," says colleague Amber Williams (a 2019 Mover & Shaker), managing librarian of strategic initiatives.

Sidsel Bech-Petersen

CURRENT POSITION

Managing Librarian, Spokane County Library District, WA 

DEGREE

MLIS, University of Washington, 2009

AWARDS

2019 Merit Award for Advances in Library Services; Better Health Together organization, “2014 Outstanding Navigator” in a ten-county region

FOLLOW

scld.org; spokanehc.com

Photo by Bob Schatz

Needs Navigator

In 2013, as the Affordable Care Act was being implemented, the Obama administration asked librarians across the United States to help patrons find health insurance through the healthcare marketplace. Aileen Luppert, managing librarian of Spokane County Library District (SCLD), "was one of the first to answer the call," says colleague Amber Williams (a 2019 Mover & Shaker), managing librarian of strategic initiatives.

Luppert proposed to library leadership that some staff be trained as healthcare exchange navigators—"not a broker, but someone to help another person navigate the process," Luppert says. "That sounded librarian-like to me."

She became the lead of nine health navigators at SCLD.

They enrolled 550 people in health insurance in the first year. But as the number of uninsured people in the county dropped by 50 percent by 2017, Luppert recognized the service was no longer needed. "We decided there were other areas we could more effectively…serve our customers and community," she says.

Luppert linked the library with the Spokane Homeless Coalition and Greater Valley Support Network—coalitions of nonprofit staff, social workers, educators, and healthcare workers. In 2018, Luppert joined a subcommittee of the Spokane Homeless Coalition to work on its annual event, Homeless Connect, which links in-need people to critical services from 100 providers. In 2020, more than 1,100 people attended the event at the Spokane Convention Center. Over 1,000 were served a hot meal, 800 picked up supplies from a food bank, and 500 got bus passes. Eye exams, haircuts, and HIV tests were available. Seventy-five people even scheduled veterinary appointment for their pets.

The event also included a "Warrant Fest," in which attendees could meet with prosecutors, public defenders, and judges from all three branches of Spokane’s court system to review outstanding warrants, reschedule missed court dates, and take care of other court-related processes—all without fear of arrest. Forty-two people had warrants quashed or recalled. While Warrant Fest is an innovative program, it’s not surprising coming from Luppert, who spent 12 years as a civil rights litigation paralegal, helping represent victims of discrimination and whistleblowers. Her exposure to an inspiring group of librarians during one such lawsuit motivated her to pursue library school.

"What I love about the law and love about libraries is similar," says Luppert. "They are about public service, accessing information no matter who you are, giving power to people who need it, and they are both fundamental to a healthy democracy." 

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