News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

Santiam Medical Clinic aims to help patients with more than healthcare

Contributing writer for The Canyon Weekly

At the start of this year, Santiam Hospital initiated a new program to help Mill City patients navigate their healthcare options.

Community Health Worker Josie Crocker serves at the Santiam Medical Clinic as a liaison between medical and social services and the community. CHWs were also placed at hospital clinics in Sublimity and Aumsville, improving access to the quality of care by addressing basic patient needs. 

Three months into the program, Crocker received kudos from staff: “You are a great listener, give great feedback, relieve others of difficult tasks, take one for the team, bring mission to life, have a good attitude and communicate clearly. Thank you for being so awesome at what you do!”

“When a new, or not recently evaluated, patient comes to the medical clinic for evaluation, they are presented with a form asking about basic needs such as safe housing, adequate food supply, and ease of transportation,” said Kim Klotz, who oversees the program. “CHWs reside in the clinic environment so that when a patient identifies a need, they can meet with that patient to further explore the situation and start the process of identifying resources and referrals to help them.”

Klotz said CHWs are also imbedded in the communities they serve, attending such activities as vaccine clinics or resource fairs held in the Santiam Canyon.

“Our goal is to have a CHW in each of our six identified Rural Healthcare Clinics,” Klotz said. “We have one staff member that is in the process of transitioning to a hospital-based Health Navigator and have the goal to place a Navigator in the ER as well.”

According to Klotz, because they serve in an emergency department or on hospital floors, a Navigator will see issues more commonly related to helping patients to apply for or properly utilize health insurance. An HN will see patients have a stable discharge plan to include safe housing or adequate transport following their hospital stay, she said. 

Klotz said research has shown morbidity and mortality are affected by much more than just medical care.

“By addressing the needs that a CHW/Navigator aims to tackle, life expectancy, quality of life and overall healthcare costs decrease,” she said. “Furthermore, the relationship and building of trust that occurs with a patient often extends to the medical practice and healthcare system, resulting in better personal commitment, autonomy and compliance. Finally, they support the medical practitioners and allow them to focus on the medical problems at hand.”

Melissa Baurer, who heads disaster services and community engagement for Santiam Hospital’s Santiam Services Integration, agrees that CHWs are instrumental in bridging care. 

Baurer credits Director of Medical Clinics Erin Cramer for getting the program up and running. 

“A new program needs to be supported by leadership,” Baurer said. “It helps with a smooth implementation of program and buy in from the rest of staff. I appreciate the support this program has received. Kim Klotz has been wonderful in the direct oversight and securement of a grant to hire the three community health workers we currently have.”

Each week, CHWs discuss patient needs and ways to find resources with Santiam Service Integration Coordinator Kim Dwyer, Colleen Bradford with ODHS Self Sufficiency, Klotz and Baurer.

“The wraparound support and commitment from Service Integration Team members to support the program is greatly appreciated,” Baurer said. “We know when providers are connecting, meeting the community member where they are at, we can accomplish connecting someone to service in a more efficient way then just making a referral to a program. 

“This is another program that utilizes our Service Integration model to support families,” she added. “Sometimes a CHW and disaster case manager may brainstorm how best to support a community member as well. It’s great to see crossover amongst programs to meet the needs of our growing communities.”  

Klotz said despite the proven value of CHWs and HNs, the move toward implementing them into a “traditional healthcare model is still being built out.” 

“At present we need funding to not only sustain the workforce that we have but to grow it to meet the demand of double the present program,” she said. “Our focus now is to have secured funding for the three positions by June and build out the team in 2023.”

Klotz said feedback to date has been “wonderful” and the SH team has weathered the growing pains of the new program “marvelously.”

“Patients are very grateful,” she said, “and this is the part that makes the job so rewarding.”

Although sometimes time-consuming and difficult to address the issues presented, the perseverance of the patient-CHW team pays off, she said.

“Our team has done everything from helping someone get a leaky toilet replaced to emergency housing on a late, cold Friday night,” Klotz said. “They’ve connected patients to mental health providers, specially chosen to suit the patient desires and helped others who otherwise wouldn’t continue their medications, by connecting them to cost saving programs. They have also connected patients to afterschool activities and camps. From hobbies to healthcare, they cover it all!”

For more information, call email [email protected].

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