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HAAM: Healthcare Nonprofit Essential to Maintaining Austin’s Creative Soul

The effervescent Reenie Collins, executive director of HAAM (the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians) believes that affordable healthcare is a basic human right. With approximately 8,000 working musicians in Austin- what’s dubbed the Live Music Capital of the World- HAAM does its part to make sure musicians, nearly all of whom live below the poverty line, have access to quality coverage. 

“The lifestyle is really taxing and for many it’s a labor-of-love,” she says. 

And with 80 percent of HAAM musicians earning less than $34,000 a year and more earning less than $18,000 a year, healthcare, and quality healthcare at that, is often out-of-reach. Since 2005, HAAM has helped 4,900 musicians receive insurance and get connected with an array of local dentists, doctors, mental health practitioners, surgeons and specialists totaling $46 million in care. For Collins, it’s all about giving back to those that are truly at the heart of Austin’s beloved culture and keeping musicians happy, healthy, and able to do what they love most. 

This Earth Day, Guayaki Yerba Mate teamed up with Tree Folks, an organization that to date has planted 2.8 million trees around Central Texas, Zoi Medicinals, an all-natural Chinese and Western herb formula company, and All Good Brand, an organic skin and sun care line, to fundraise for HAAM and raise awareness on the importance of acting as allies for artists. With performances by psychotropic folk band The Deer, Sir Woman, and a special appearance by Robert Ellis, as well as a market featuring local vendors, it was a special community event that went toward helping HAAM continue the incredible work they do each year. And, for Guayaki, it was an obvious partnership in lieu of the recent Come To Life Austin activation. 

Through visual media artists, musicians and other makers, important ideas are spread, barriers are broken and generations are inspired. But, unfortunately many creatives face difficulty in making ends meet, often living below the poverty line without access to healthcare, affordable housing or city support. That is why organizations like HAAM are critical in providing a network of support to one of Austin’s most vulnerable populations. During the Come To Life Austin activation, Guyaki worked to start the conversation on issues surrounding mental health and self-care, access to affordable healthcare, the city’s role in caring for its creatives, and, more broadly, the role of the creative in society. 

On a sunny Austin afternoon, Come To Life caught up with Collins to learn about how HAAM keeps the music playing.

 

Come To Life: How did you get involved with HAAM?

Reenie Collins (RC): I’ve actually been involved since Robin Shivers founded HAAM in 2005.  My background is in healthcare and I started my career in healthcare administration and public health working with programs and hospitals. I was brought in as a healthcare consultant to see if their model was going to work. And when the first executive director, Carol Schwartz, left, they were looking for someone [to fill the role]. So, I came out of retirement and that was five years ago. We’re still going strong. 

Cone To Life: What is HAAM’s mission and how does HAAM contribute to the local community?

RC: Our whole mission is around making sure that Austin musicians have access to affordable healthcare. The issue is that if you are a musician and you can’t play, then you’re not earning income. That also means that your band isn’t earning income and the venue isn’t earning off of you. When musicians who are sick, dying, or hurt and can’t get onstage, it really affects our economy and this culture we love so much. HAAM covers 2,700 musicians today and we estimate there’s another 2,000 eligible musicians. Our goal is to reach even more. I passionately believe healthcare isn’t a luxury but a right we should all have. Unfortunately, before HAAM, healthcare was a luxury for our working musicians. It should be a necessity. There’s not a week that goes by that I don’t get a phone call, email, or a big hug from someone who says we saved their life.

Come To Life: Speak more on the importance of education when it terms to healthcare. 

RC: We try to educate folks on the importance and value of healthcare. People are very uneducated about healthcare and want a plan that’s say $10 a month, but those are bronze plans. They are fine if you are generally healthy or have a major cataclysmic accident, but for the in-between there’s a really high deductible and high out-of-pocket. We call this healthcare navigation. Medical debt is the No. 1 cause of bankruptcy in this country.

Come To Life: Why do you think it’s important to have programs like HAAM in place to support Austin’s creatives?

RC: I think that creatives, whether it’s musicians or artists, are the soul of any community and the soul of our world. One of the things we can’t forget is that they have sacrificed a lot. Arts really touch us in a way [that] nothing else does, and, quite frankly, that’s what makes life worth living

Come To Life: What do you believe are some of the greatest challenges facing creatives?

RC: I think a lot of the creative community has big challenges in doing what they are called to do and are passionate about, while being able to make a living doing it. If you want to have family or certain things and be able to provide at the level you want, you may [need] two or three jobs and gig or song-write at night. Really good artist and musicians, they spend a lot of time perfecting their craft. It takes a lot of resilience and spirit.

Come To Life: Why do you think self-care is so important for creatives?

RC: I think it’s really import for creative people, artists, and musicians to remember to be kind to themselves. They are more difficult on [themselves] than anyone else and there’s a lot of negative self-talk out there. They also need to have access to regular checkups and stay healthy. Our creatives, especially, push themselves harder than anyone else does which results in burn out. There’s a lot of pressure to be the best and have next big hit. 

Come To Life: What do you think the role of the creative in society is?

RC: The role of the creative in society is really to provide soul to human beings. Without art and without music, we’d all be like robots. These are the things that move us. It feeds the soul.