LOUISVILLE, KY, December 21, 2020 - The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky has named Rich Seckel, director of the Kentucky Equal Justice Center (KEJC), the recipient of its 2020 Gil Friedell Memorial Health Policy Award. Seckel was chosen for his leadership to prevent more than 100,000 Kentuckians living on low incomes from losing their health insurance, which became especially critical this year during the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Advocacy at its best and most empowering is a team effort," said Seckel. "I've been honored to work with great teams at KEJC and in the community. Of course, Gil Friedell himself was a wonderful example."
Seckel has designated KEJC to receive the $5,000 cash grant from the Foundation that accompanies the award.
Under Seckel 's direction, KEJC filed a lawsuit that ultimately halted implementation of Kentucky HEALTH, a Medicaid program waiver that included work requirements, premium mandates and administrative penalties. Experts estimated that more than 100,000 Kentuckians were in danger of losing their health care coverage if they were unable to overcome these barriers. While the suit was still pending, Kentucky's governorship changed and the waiver was withdrawn.
"There isn't any one person or organization who has done more to help protect the health of Kentuckians than Rich Seckel and KEJC," said Ben Chandler, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. "We know that people who have health coverage are much more likely to have better health because they get preventive care and screenings, and they see their medical professionals earlier and more regularly. This pandemic has once again proven that people with chronic health conditions are more vulnerable to serious complications from viruses and other health threats."
"I hesitate to think about how many more Kentuckians we would have lost, or who would currently be in ICUs, absent Rich's leadership to protect low-income health insurance in Kentucky," said Baptist Health Kentucky executive Tim Marcum, chair of the Foundation's Community Advisory Council. A committee of the Council determines the Friedell winner each year.
"In the Medicaid case, it took thousands of Kentuckians who expressed concern in public comments--and 16 courageous Kentuckians who stood up as plaintiffs in the courts to protect health care for themselves and their neighbors. Many thanks to them," Seckel said.
The Friedell Award is named after Dr. Gil Friedell, a passionate advocate for access to health care, the first director of the Markey Cancer Center at the University of Kentucky, and cofounder of the Kentucky Cancer Registry. Dr. Friedell helped launch a nonprofit advocacy education organization in 2005 that later became the Friedell Committee for Health System Transformation.
The Foundation created the Friedell Award when it united with the Friedell Committee in 2018. The winner is selected from each year's Healthy Kentucky Policy Champions, Kentucky individuals or organizations recognized by the Foundation for their engagement in improving the health of people in their communities and/or the entire Commonwealth through policy change. The Foundation awards a $5,000 cash grant to a nonprofit organization of the Friedell Award winner's choice that is working to improve health policy in Kentucky. The Foundation accepts nominations for Healthy Kentucky Policy Champions at any time. The nomination form is on the Foundation's website here.
About the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky
Funded by an endowment, the mission of the nonpartisan Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky is to address the unmet health needs of Kentuckians by developing and influencing policy, improving access to care, reducing health risks and disparities, and promoting health equity. Since the Foundation opened its doors in 2001, it has invested more than $29 million in health policy research, advocacy, and demonstration project grants across the Commonwealth.
Bonnie J. Hackbarth