YPSILANTI, MI – Harshini Anand’s passion for public health probably exceeds what you might expect from a typical teenager.

Anand, 16, of Ypsilanti, is an active volunteer with the Washtenaw County Health Department as a member of the Health for All Steering Committee, while also serving as Chair of the Youth Leadership Council for Corner Health Center, where she is a member of its board of directors. directors.

So when the rising senior from Washtenaw International High School had to come up with a class project that would have a positive impact in the community, it was no surprise that she chose public health and raising $ 15,000 to clear Michigan families’ medical debt.

“Fortunately, I have never known anyone in my personal life who has been affected by medical debt, but I understand that this is a problem in general,” Anand said.

When it came time to choose a cause for her community project, Anand said she was inspired by a story she read about a woman who almost died in a serious car accident and who had so much medical debt that she wouldn’t. be able to repay it during his lifetime.

“What struck me about this article is that she wished she had never been released from the hospital because she would have to live the rest of her life paying off this huge debt,” she said.

“I think that was the most surprising and heartbreaking thing for me – that the system that is supposed to support people and make sure they are healthy is the very system that overwhelms them and makes them have these desires. very negative. “

When looking for an organization that would most effectively help erase medical debt, Anand took inspiration from the HBO show “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” which made a similar profile on the crash of the medical debt while buying and forgiving $ 15 million in medical debt. for 9,000 people.

The episode took her to RIP Medical Debt, a nonprofit that uses donations to buy medical debts in large bundled wallets and then forgive them for pennies on the dollar. To date, RIP Medical Debt has eradicated nearly $ 5 billion in medical debt, providing financial relief to 2.8 million people and families.

This means that Anand’s fundraising efforts, which were primarily done reaching out to people, businesses, and organizations in his personal network, helped erase over $ 1.5 million in medical debt. for Michigan families.

Her history of volunteering with public health organizations and her fundraising efforts inspired her to pursue a career in the field, Anand said.

“Just having these opportunities really broadened my view and my understanding of how the system as a whole works,” she said.

As a member of the Universal Health Steering Committee, Dayna Brimley, a community health analyst with the Washtenaw County Health Department, said Anand gave her the opportunity to review the data and a wide range of different health factors that impact the community.

Hearing stories about the life experiences of other members of the community, Brimley said, ultimately led Anand to seek other opportunities to positively impact his community.

“She is a very dedicated young person, member of our society and I think her participation in the steering committee as well as all the work she does in these other areas is a real testament to her deep dedication to the betterment of her community”, Brimley said. noted. “I know that whenever she is on the committee her thoughts are always very poignant. She says things that make everyone stop and think.

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