You don’t have to work in direct patient care to impact patients’ lives in a big way. Ciara Day’s job is testament to that. While a medical degree helps doctors attend to medical conditions, Ciara works to mend the heart. Her entire job is based on the OCH mission of offering assistance in an atmosphere of compassion, respect and dignity. The stories that make up her every day speak to the passion OCH employees have for its patients.
As a Community Health Worker in OCH’s Integrated Care department, Ciara works to empower patients and give them the tools to improve their lives. “Everyone is different,” Ciara says. She says patients need help that is not just limited to healthcare visits with providers: sometimes patients need a ride to the appointment, a shower to clean off the fleas so the patient can address real problems with providers, or basic needs like nutritious food, or a safe place to call home. “It’s my job to check in and make sure those voices are heard.”
When considering healthcare, the Integrated Care department works as a team to look at overall well-being, not just an exchange of symptoms and healthcare solutions. “Everything is a lesson,” Ciara explains. It could mean providing patients with lessons on meal prepping for a chronic illness and what your refrigerator should look like. “You have to meet them where they are. If a patient doesn’t have access to food stamps or their Medicaid gets shut off, we connect them to resources that can help them get access to those things and show them how to work what they have.” Sometimes this means working with patients for a long time, and that’s okay. Changes do not happen overnight and Ciara is dedicated to working long term to better patient lives.
“I’m not afraid to call a patient up and be like, ‘Your provider is worried about you and part of the process for following up is a home visit. When are you available?’” And that’s just what she does. Understanding where a patient is now helps her figure out what the next steps are.
I’ve been doing this in the community for nearly a decade. I was initially hired to help the highest utilizers of the ER. But those aren’t the people screaming for help. It’s the silent ones who need it the most.
Within the first two weeks of joining OCH, Ciara started compiling a pantry for patients. Her office has boxes filled with supplies and walls covered in clean clothes, hygiene products, towels, and now, diapers. “I’m so excited! We just got a partnership approved with the Diaper Bank and now we can get diapers and wipes whenever we need them. We haven’t even started getting food in yet.” Ciara and others in the Integrated Care department do whatever it takes to share a little love.
It’s all a learning process, for Integrated Care and the patient. It is a process of bettering lives and strengthening communities. Community events like HOPE Connection and Everyone Counts in Springfield are integral to the mission. “Getting that access is huge. It’s invaluable to provide access to healthcare and information about how to get signed up for the programs people need.”
Sometimes that learning process takes a long time, like in the case of Allison*. Allison started going to a provider at OCH for over a decade. A few years ago, she incurred a major life event and a variety of severe health issues that left her on disability and Medicaid, unable to care for herself. The medication she was taking was not working which resulted in chronic pain and a distrust of the medical system. When she moved in with friends, she had a limited food supply and limited quality of life. Ciara worked with her to get her food and looked at housing options. Every trip to the grocery store or produce distribution center was a lesson. “Again, you work with what they have. You shop within their budget. You show them nutritious options they can afford.”
After working with multiple agencies and with the help of Ciara, Allison found an apartment. Ciara helped her move out of her friend’s house and into her first “home” in four years. She showed Allison how to cook the food she has. “Sometimes you just need to let them know what they can do. Boil a potato and don’t add too much butter or cream and you have mashed potatoes.” Teaching patients to have the confidence to take care of themselves is one of Ciara’s favorite parts of her job. “[Allison] called me earlier this week saying she worked for hours cooking onions and potatoes and she was running around her apartment like a crazy person with joy.” It’s always a learning process. One day you boil potatoes; the next, you fry them up with some onions. During the interview, Kristen, the Integrated Care manager ran in the room exclaiming, “I found Allison a couch!” It’s the little successes that show the Integrated Care department and Ciara’s dedication to the patients.
Ciara summed it up perfectly when talking about her own children. “I have three rules. One is care about others. Hold the door open for everyone, not just girls. Always be a degree better of yourself than where you are now.” Always treat others the way you want to be treated. You have to share the love.
Qualifications for the Integrated Care program simply include being a patient at Ozarks Community Hospital. To be eligible for the Primary Care Health Home program, the patient must be a current patient, have Medicaid as a primary or secondary insurance and have one (or more) chronic condition(s). If you or someone you know is an OCH patient and in need of assistance, contact Integrated Care. For more information about the Community Health Worker position, email Ciara Day at cday@OCHonline.com.
*Patient names and health information have been changed to protect patient confidentiality.