The 10 of 2010: Carolyn Schwarz, Executive Director, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians

The 10 of 2010: Carolyn Schwarz,  Executive Director, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians

Through HAAM, this “Jane of all Trades” is making sure the people that make this the Live Music Capital can keep on keepin’ on.

When Carolyn Schwarz was a young girl, her mother and father would play the radio to help her fall asleep. Now, Schwarz is executive director of the Health Alliance for Austin Musicians (HAAM), a program that connects local musicians to discount healthcare services. And because of her work, thousands of musicians can sleep better knowing they have access to healthcare.

“It’s rewarding, knowing that I’m truly making a difference in the lives of our musicians. They tell me HAAM is saving their careers and changing their lives,” Schwarz says. She became executive director when HAAM was first created five and a half years ago. Before then, Schwarz earned a master’s degree in social work and worked at insure.a.kid, a non-profit organization that aids low-income families in obtaining insurance for their children.

As executive director and one of only two employees at HAAM, Schwarz is a self-proclaimed “Jane of all Trades.” For Schwarz, there’s no such thing as a typical day. The one running theme in her week is constant busyness. She oversees all aspects of the program, from enrollment of clients to staffing board meetings and planning fundraising events. Over the years, HAAM has helped 2,200 musicians obtain access to health care and currently has 1,500 enrolled. In order to be eligible for HAAM’s services, a person must be a working musician, living at or below 250 percent of the Federal Poverty level, and currently be uninsured. “I’ve always been interested in healthcare,” Schwarz says. “It’s a complicated system and I enjoy helping people navigate it. Many people feel overwhelmed and don’t know there are affordable programs out there for them.”

HAAM began with three affiliate service providers. Seton Family of Hospitals provides primary medical care, St. David’s Foundation  offers dental care and the SIMS Foundation provides mental health and addiction recovery. In 2009, HAAM added Estes Audiology to its service providers for hearing exams and custom fit earplugs, and this year it added vision health through Prevent Blindness Texas. “In 2011, we’re going to focus on wellness and prevention programs,” Schwarz says. “We are exploring offerings in nutrition, smoking cessation and want to start classes that help musicians learn how to carry their gear correctly and how to avoid repetitive motion injuries.”

To maintain and expand HAAM’s services, Schwarz organizes two major fundraising events a year. Corporate Battle of the Bands invites business people with music as a hobby to play in front of celebrity judges at Antone’s. On HAAM Benefit Day, businesses can donate five percent of their day’s sales or give a flat cash donation. This year, 200 businesses participated and HAAM fundraised a record-breaking $195,000. Though Schwarz and HAAM have already touched the lives of over 2,000 musicians in Austin, she is committed to keep expanding its outreach and programs. There are roughly 8,000 musicians in Austin. As the Live Music Capital, Austin’s musicians produce nearly $1 billion in local economic activity. Being self-employed, however, leaves many musicians without access to affordable insurance. Schwarz is proud to be helping them get into primary care and out of emergency rooms.

“I have a call to service that’s programmed in me,” Schwarz says. I couldn’t imagine doing anything besides helping my community in any shape or form. It’s really fulfilling to me.” In 2008, a drummer in a local band was suffering from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder. Without insurance, he’d often have to go to the emergency room when he felt he couldn’t breathe. He was about to quit his job when a friend told him about HAAM. Schwarz set him up with a provider and scheduled his first appointment with his doctor. The doctor prescribed him with the proper medication and he hasn’t visited an emergency room since. He is currently recording a new album with his band.

Clients often thank Schwarz with letters and postcards. Her efforts have also been recognized by the Austin Business Journal, which presented her with the Woman of Distinction award this year. In 2009, Schwarz won Austinite of the Year at the Austin Under 40 awards. Schwarz and her husband moved to Austin over eight years ago. It was music that had brought them together, meeting at a mutual friend’s concert when they both lived in San Francisco. The city’s culture satiates Schwarz’s love for music, and she says she rarely steps past the local section at Waterloo Records. When she buys an album, she often buys two copies to send one to a friend. “I really believe in all our lives, whether it’s classical, rock or jazz, music has touched us all,” Schwarz says. “It’s something that touches our souls in so many different ways.”


The 10 of 2010: Carolyn Schwarz,  Executive Director, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians