people being together

Trying to understand an acute or chronic health concern can be confusing. Lacking transportation or money for prescription medication adds to the frustration.  Melissa Nielsen is building a team of patient advocates by integrating community health workers (CHWs) at the Center for Family Medicine (CFM), a family practice clinic that houses the Sioux Falls Family Practice Residency.

“Throughout the years of working with patients in varying functions, I have come to the realization that patients need advocates to maneuver medical care and sometimes issues that arise in life. Community health workers can connect patients with resources to help their quality of life. The advocacy could be as simple as steering the patient in the right direction to pay a bill or get a new driver’s license.  Sometimes it’s helping the patient afford their medication or having it delivered,” Nielsen explained.

Melissa NielsenAmanda Dunham is one of the three CHWs on the CFM team and one of the first graduates of the Lake Area Technical College CHW program. “We have seen a better rapport between patients and the health system. Patients trust that we can truly help them have better health. We hope to help erase barriers to patients receiving health care and make medical care easily accessed to decrease chronic disease numbers.”

Nielsen and Dunham were featured in the recent Best Practice Brief on Connecting Community to Health Care and shared why addressing social determinants is a pivotal aspect for achieving positive health outcomes and improving quality of life. In addition, the CHW team has helped balance the workload of doctors and nurses by helping patients navigate the health system and access community resources.

Dunham emphasized, “We must broaden our definition of preventive care by catching patients with social and living needs that have gone unmet to provide untapped resources that can help them with their circumstances and improve their overall health.”

Amanda Dunham

“Our clinic educates the new physicians, and we have had a great response from them. Our team of CHWs have found housing, helped apply for medication assistance, transportation, food insecurity, lack of insurance and the list goes on and on!  Patients that were unable to get to their appointments or not showing began coming on a consistent basis, then moved to being seen less frequently due to their chronic condition being better managed,” added Nielsen.

Community health representatives and CHWs serve as guides for connecting individuals with the right resources and support to achieve a positive health outcome.  Focused on patient-centered care, the Community Health Worker Collaborative of South Dakota is working to expand this health professional network to reduce health disparities and improve quality of life.

Source: Q Insider | June 20, 2022 – Vol 3, Issue 6