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The state of health care is on the minds of Madison residents. There’s particular concern about affordability, how to care for aging populations and the availability of mental health resources, especially for communities of color.

Those concerns are reflected in community conversations captured by an initiative called the Local Voices Network, which allows policymakers, journalists and researchers to listen in and compile the subjects address by participants.

LVN is a partnership between the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Media Lab and Cortico, a nonprofit organization that works to foster constructive public conversation in the community and media. In Madison, University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Kathy Cramer, author of "The Politics of Resentment," is a partner in the effort.

Over the past several months, small groups of residents have been gathering together in conversation to listen to and learn about each other’s lives. The idea is to create a unique listening channel that lifts up the voices of community members to local policymakers and the media.

The conversations are led by volunteer facilitators, recorded on a “digital hearth,” then transcribed and posted on the website. 


Diane, recorded in an unknown location with Ruthanne Chun

Right now, because of medical situations, I've lost all of what I had at one time when I thought I was going to be able to keep my house after I retired and due to medical situations, lack of good healthcare service -- I think it should be like the fire department: it's there for all of us when we need it and we pay all the time a little bit, instead of these big whammies that take people down. A lot of us who end up in bankruptcy situations got there because of medical situations, and that's just not fair. I think we have so long known, anyone who's thinking at all, we need to have a system that is better.

… I think what we're seeing here is that healthcare is a major concern at a time when all of us are facing healthcare problems due to aging, if nothing else. It's consuming too much time and money and energy. So I just think of that general category. I can give you more stories, but it's everybody I know, every day, trying to figure out how to quite literally survive and we shouldn't be living like that.

Anne, recorded in Westmorland with Mary Hoddy

I would just add that health care is a big issue. And it's not just for people of low income means, but anybody who gets sick, that has a medical crisis. We have a record number of bankruptcies in this country and in the state because somebody has gotten sick and hasn't been able to afford the medical care that's needed. And it just isn't right that somebody goes bankrupt because they've been unlucky in their health. And I think this is a big concern that as a society, I would just put on the record that it's something that we should all think about.

Cynthia, recorded in an unknown location with Mindy Habecker

When I look at all of that we've talked about and income disparities and inequalities and the struggling and for everybody, I would want to keep on working on making sure that everybody has access to good healthcare. I think that's so critical for having a job, being able to be productive and living a good life ... and I think if I had to really focus on one thing, I think it would be access to healthcare.


Safi, recorded in the Capitol with Alex Lindenmeyer

I feel like this campus is slowly taking a toll on my mental health. I kind of struggled with that in high school, like the last bit of high school I was very stressed. I was very, just like, losing -- I don't know, I was just losing my mind a little bit. I just felt very insecure about everything that was happening. I was in a dark place, but I got out. When I got admitted to this school, little did I know the consequences that comes with being admitted to this school as a person of color. I just don't feel like I belong anywhere on this campus. It's a big campus, so to not feel like you belong anywhere is sad. Even though there's people that try to make spaces for us and stuff like that, I feel like it's not enough.

Alexandria, recorded in an unknown location with Everett Mitchell

I think the thing that's most concerning to me is the lack of services available in the mental health realm for families in Madison, specifically in the communities of color. I feel like I've found that to be the number one thing. I found that a lot of kids that I interact with, they are suffering from generational trauma, so it's just not just them. It's just that their parents are instilling trauma in them that they've experienced. And it's the fact that Madison really doesn't have that many places that accept insurance to do mental health services and insurance companies tend to limit the number of services they do, the quality of the service they get, so it's definitely been a struggle.

Kersti, recorded in Westmorland with Mindy Habecker

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Well, in the morning, I'm by the Capital early morning and I see these people sleeping there by the buildings on the ground and I think, you know, I don't see the children that are homeless but I know there are lots of them. But then, you know, how much is it because really the healthcare hasn't been reaching these people and it's too late at that point when they are already on the street? Many of them probably have mental illness that wasn't -- they might have been fine if they had been treated since they were young children.


Josie, recorded in Spring Harbor with Erik Beach

We are increasingly an aging population … When I think about the number of people that will need more care and then the options we have, nobody wants to go into a nursing home or long-term care, it's really hard for people to try to take care of their loved ones at home as they age. It seems like the system really could use some reevaluation, reconsideration of how to care for the aging population in a way that has dignity and comfort, community, sense of belonging, that's not at the mercy of a medical establishment dictating how you're going to end your days.

Sally Jo, recorded in the Capitol with Ruthanne Chun

I think what I want my local representatives to hear and understand is that the aging population is growing exponentially. That more, as the baby boomers age, by 2030, more than 20% of our population is going to be older than age 65. We're gonna have more and more people living to the age of 100 than we've ever seen before, and we're going to need services … We need funding and services for dementia, and Alzheimer's, and other related dementias. That disease has the potential to devastate our society. We need people who can be caretakers, and money put into training, and the value of caretakers increased, because those sorts of diseases really affect family members in terms of being able to care for them independently.

I think that it's important to really consider what services are we offering and how can we increase them for people who are low income, because they're aging too, and they're going to be included in that group and require more services from the city, and places to go, and meals to access, and healthcare to access and advocacy.

Deanna, recorded in Greenbush with Sue Robbins

I have a father-in-law who is single and retired and living in a six-unit condo building, but is suffering with some mental issues, some mental health issues and some physical issues but would really, really benefit from living in a community that can sort of keep their eye on him. And I think people in standard neighborhoods do those types of things anyway. But I think more intentionality around that idea would be great. And we're seeing another cohousing go up, but I think that cohousing really can be a solution to loneliness in adults. And I don't think older people necessarily want to just go live in a senior center.

Conversations in the Local Voices Network are happening across Madison. If you would like to participate in a conversation or learn how to host a conversation, please visit

Abigail Becker contributed to this report. 

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