Pictured above, LaShunda Williams holds Perfect Peace by Daniel Black, her favorite book from a few years back.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
The Gadsden Public Library is servicing its community in a new manner this year, following the extraordinary efforts of one of its most devoted staff members. After months of preparation, East Gadsden Library branch manager LaShunda Williams transformed the library into a central location where residents can discover the health insurance available to them via the Affordable Care Act.
“I can’t tell you enough how proud I am of LaShunda,” said GPL Director Craig Scott. “While this is going to be a totally new experience for LaShunda and the library in learning to help people with this type of service, GPL now has someone on our staff who is very capable, trained and who can help people make informed decisions about their coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplace.”
Inspired by the American Library Association’s initiative and a recognizable need within her community, Williams gained approval from the federal government to verify the Gadsden Public Library as a Certified and Designated Organization. The American Library Association’s initiative proposed libraries extending a helping hand to individuals and families needing or renewing insurance healthcare coverage via the Affordable Care Act. Williams emphasized that insurance is protection numerous people require each day, but rarely receive due to lack of knowledge or affordability. Those without insurance might avoid doctor visits or go without necessary treatments, choosing to self-medicate or allowing their health to worsen out of worry that they cannot afford the help they need.
From November 1 until December 15, the Gadsden Public Library will host its open enrollment period. During this time, individuals can call the East Gadsden Library branch to schedule appointments to explore insurance coverage plans personalized for them that are eligible under the Affordable Care Act.
While Williams (a Certified Application Counselor) is the only person certified to assist individuals, she can travel to all branches of the library to help people explore potential healthcare coverage plans crafted for them.
As a Certified Application Counselor or “Assister,” Williams serves as a consultant to provide individuals and families with information that will aid them in making educated decisions.
While Williams never refers an individual to a specific coverage plan, she informs the consumer of all options available depending on his or her unique situation, discussing the various plans for which he or she is eligible.
“I would love for residents to find out that coverage is affordable,” said Williams. “This opportunity is good for our city. As a library, we’re more of a community center. We try to reach different demographics. As we evolve, we can be helpful in all sorts of ways.”
Williams noted that a vast spectrum of individuals are covered under the Affordable Care Act, and she strives to ensure that all these segments of society understand insurance is accessible and obtainable. Senior citizens, Native Americans, documented immigrants and LGBTQIA persons are included in these groups.
Williams’ appointments are not geared towards a few people, but welcome all interested individuals searching for an insurance plan tailored to them. Williams shared that persons who are visually impaired or experience hearing loss are also eligible for coverage. She is also prepared to accommodate individuals who speak another language with translators who can interpret the meeting.
Williams is the only person qualified to examine personal information during appointments, and she assured consumers that their private documents will remain confidential and secure.
“I would give myself three hours with the consumer per appointment,” said Williams. “It may go quicker once I learn, but it’s a lot of information and there’s lots of plans. To make sure the consumer has the best option, I would rather take my time.”
No mountain is too great for Williams to climb. She underwent rigorous training to acquire her certification as an assister, which remains valid for the next two years. Once her initial application was approved in August, she studied the equivalent of 25 hours and successfully passed over eight exams.
For the past 12 years, Williams has dedicated herself to bettering her community. Her latest venture proves no different, but rather emerges as an example of her generous spirit and her benevolent heart. Her compassion for each person who walks through the library’s doors extends beyond the facility’s walls, manifesting in programs she develops for local school systems and students. From book clubs to lectures to entertainment, her ingenuity sparks new opportunities for the library and its visitors each day. Her constant innovation and drive transforms the library into a central location where individuals feel safe, welcome and important – her diligence resulting in an ever-evolving space that shines as a beacon of hope and possibility for its people.
“It’s good to see people that are possibly down and out, they come up,” said Williams. “When they come and check out a book, you become their friend. I think my mission is to treat everybody the same – to recognize where they come from and try to put myself into their shoes. I try to be understanding. People enlighten me a lot, and make me think. The [true] mission is do not let people tell you what you can and cannot do. I just want to help people. I don’t want people to be bound by what the outside world says they should be.”