A new Community Health Worker Program is connecting Strawberry Wilderness Community Clinic patients in Grant County to an array of resources to provide support and help improve their well-being.
Clinic Director Marci Wasiluk, who is an executive team member for Blue Mountain Hospital District, manages the CHW team of four health care workers.
She said the CHW staff are on “the front lines,” outside the medical providers’ offices, connecting patients — from infants through seniors — with their community partners and providing advocacy, education and support to help them improve their lifestyles.
The help the CHW offers includes home visits and is as wide ranging as the patients that seek assistance.
They may lend a hand to patients applying for health benefits, finding a ride to an out-of-town medical specialist or accessing a walker or wheelchair. They can even help patients find lodging and food.
Other times they’ve discovered patients who have no running water, a baby in need of a crib or a patient in need of a glucometer (to monitor blood sugar levels). They also provide ideas for nutritious recipes to manage patients’ health issues.
“We’re an extension of the providers, looking at the whole person,” Wasiluk said. “The community health workers are helping our community understand the resources we have right here in Grant County.”
The program, which was operating under a grant for the first two years, officially launched last July and is now sustained by the clinic patients. Under the grant, the staff mainly visited with patients over the phone, and since the official launch, home visits are available.
The certified Community Health Workers staff include: Dani Jones, Jenna Hendriksen, Jenny Keith and Gaylene Moyers.
Jones and Hendricksen have both been CHW certified for two years, and Keith and Moyers recently completed their final CHW class and are expected to receive their certification this month.
“The services really exploded with the needs that were in our community,” Jones said. “Every month, we’re seeing the volume of patients increase.”
They saw 27 patients in October, and in November, they had 32 patient visits.
Hendriksen said she was born and raised in Grant County, but didn’t realize all the local resources that are available.
“We link them together — Families First Parent Resource Center, Heart of Grant County, senior center, DHS (Department of Human Services), health department, food bank, Community Connections, Northeast Oregon housing authority, CCS and churches,” she said.
These workers move into action when the clinic’s primary care providers give a patient a referral.
Sometimes the connection of patient to CHW staff member may happen before the patient leaves the clinic.
“Say a doctor discovers a patient has anxiety, depression and is suicidal, we have the CHW come in — CCS (Community Counseling Solutions) may not be able to come for a couple hours,” Wasiluk said, adding the CHW can visit with the patient while they’re waiting.
When the patient thought their life was hopeless, help came, and they realized resources are available and that things will be OK, Wasiluk said.
Keith said that helping patients get in touch with needed resources can help alleviate stress on family members.
In one instance, she said, “They cried because a burden was lifted.”
“It makes us feel closer to our community,” she said. “We’re really making a difference.”
Hendriksen explained that CHW and home health are two different things.
“Home health is focused on health care needs,” she said. “We’re more focused on community resources.”
Jones said she’s been working in health care for several years, since high school.
“Knowing the other (patient) needs, I felt like there was a gap that was there that I wanted to fill and help people,” she said, describing why she decided to become involved in CHW.
Keith said she’s a “people person” and likes helping others.
“I wished I could do more for someone — now I can,” she said. “It’s nice to be out there and actually helping them and seeing it from the start to the end.”
Moyers said she enjoys talking with parents about their babies’ needs, and helping connect them to Families First for car seats and education. She also enjoys helping people with diabetes learn to cook a healthy meal.
“It’s really fulfilling, knowing that you’ve helped so many people in a day,” Hendriksen said.
Wasiluk said the CWH staff become so close to the patients that “they become part of their story.”
“It’s a lasting relationship,” she said.