Monday, March 20, 2017

#theVIPExperience Post #9: Hannah Lodin

Being an intern at Crossroad has been an eye-opening experience.  As a pre-med student, I had done plenty of shadowing before coming to Crossroad, but it was always in my hometown, a wealthy suburban community.  My first few weeks shadowing at Crossroad were an entirely different experience.  I saw patients who couldn’t afford to pay for necessary medications, who were undocumented immigrants, and who didn’t speak English.  I saw the many barriers to care that Crossroad’s patient population faces, and the many inventive solutions that people who work at Crossroad are implementing to make accessing care easier for their patients.   One of those solutions, is of course, the VIP program.

As a new VIP, I wasn’t sure what to expect from patients during the referral process, but the vast majority of the people I have helped over the past several months have been kind and grateful.  Some of the referrals I work on can be difficult.  A patient could have multiple specialist referrals, a restrictive insurance company, or need transportation—or maybe even a combination of the three.  There are few things more satisfying that following a difficult referral from beginning to end.  It’s great to get the appointments made for the patients, but it’s also great to do the follow up calls and see that they attended their appointments, and that you played a role in getting them the care they need.

It’s easy to see the majority of my role as an intern as making phone calls and running into red tape along the way.  The process of making an appointment at a specialist might not seem like it has a huge impact, but when you consider what it means for the patient, you can see it in an entirely new light.  My call to the specialist is one less call that the patient has to make, and less time that the patient has to take out of their already busy lives to navigate what can be a confusing process.  As an intern at Crossroad, I am fortunate to be able to provide a service for people that is valuable and meaningful, and that gives them the opportunity to invest in their health.

-- Hannah Lodin

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

#theVIPExperience Post #8: Anna Klunk

Crossroad is a wonderful community. I hear many VIPs say they are thankful for this experience because it exposes them to “how the other half lives”. They had no idea that this underserved population could be so thankful, and kind. I came into Crossroad already knowing that. These patients are people just like me, and they deserve my respect just as much as anyone else. I love Crossroad because the providers see their patients the same way I do: as people. Just people. They do not need to categorize them as, oh, that is a homeless person. No he or she is just a person. And at Crossroad, people look out for each other.

Prior to my experience at Crossroad, I had never looked into how other medical communities provided care to best fit the needs of the population they are serving. That was until I came across an experience with my own medical provider. They made assumptions about my privilege, and sent me away with instructions that I could not follow because I could not afford them. This opened my eyes to how the majority of the medical community operates, and what makes Crossroad so different.

This experience with my own doctor showed me how truly important my job at Crossroad can be for the patients that attend. I remember how alone I felt as I sat in my car after realizing I could not afford the specialty care that had been referred to me, and that is where it ended. No one followed up with me to see if I needed help, or if there were other options, I was on my own. Crossroad is so special because we put forth the extra effort to make sure that the patients know we are there for them, and that we will do whatever it takes to get them the care they need, whether it means holding for 20 minutes trying to contact a hospital, getting in touch with financial aid services, or working with insurance companies to see what we can do to create the best possible option for the patient.

I am thankful to be a VIP at Crossroad because it allows me to make a difference in someone’s life each time I work. In addition, it has taught me that I can make a difference later in my life as well should I continue on to practice medicine.

-- Anna Klunk

Monday, March 6, 2017

#theVIPExperience Post #7: Erica Lampert

            Before my experience here at Crossroads, I always thought going to the doctor was a normal, annual process that everyone was able to do. I never once considered that maybe a trip to the doctor’s office would cost someone their meal for the night, or that going to get medicine for a cold would leave a child in their house all alone. Before interning here, I never imagined that anyone could consider anything else more important than their health—without health, how was anyone to function normally in life? It was silly to me that some people would skip the doctors because they wanted to work instead, or because they just couldn’t find the time to go. I was shocked that people just never even considered going to the doctors because to me, health is something that should be important to everyone. If you had to skip work or school to go to a doctor’s appointment, then you should do it because it is important. I was naïve, however, because I never put myself in the shoes of those who could not merely skip work, who could not simply get to their appointments, or those who could not simply afford the appointments. Interning at Crossroad Health Center has really opened my eyes as to why the doctors isn’t always the biggest priority in everyone’s mind.
            If a person is living in poverty, having the insurance, money, and transportation to attend the appointment is extremely difficult to do. There are many times that I have to call patients to remind them of their appointments the following day, and end up having to quickly call the doctor’s office and cancel that appointment because the patient doesn’t have the money to pay for it right now. There has also been several times that a patient is turned away from a doctor’s office because of their insurance, even though they may be facing a serious medical condition. I never understood until now that for some people, making and attending a doctor’s appointment is not worth the trouble of dealing with their cold, depression, or aching foot. To call off work might mean calling off dinner for the rest of the family so they can pay for the appointment they needed for their liver problems. Until I actually interacted with patients, I never understood how much is actually going on in their lives to make going to the doctor obsolete.
            There has also been too many times to count where I have had to cancel appointments because someone had lost their brother, aunt, mother, father, cousin, uncle, or child, and was not in the state of mind to attend that appointment. I have never had to deal with losing someone like that, so I never even consider losing someone as a factor as to why people could not go to the appointments made for them. When someone is living in poverty, it is hard to make something like health a priority when a million other more important things are going on around them.  Work must always come first because money is essential to surviving in that lifestyle. Without work, there is no way to pay for anything, thus resulting in more poverty and making it harder to live a healthy life style. A life in poverty is a domino effect, and I wish there was some way to implement health without having to take from everyone’s pocketbook.
            Before coming to Crossroads, I never understood why something so simple to me, was not done by millions of others who needed it. I didn’t understand that giving up a day to go to a checkup, or to figure out why your headaches are so bad, was a huge problem to those living in poverty. Crossroads has opened me up to experiences that I have never faced before, allowing me to understand why my job there is so essential to the program. It isn’t easy for everyone to just take off wok and come see a doctor, nor is it easy to not get help and work in order to put food on the table. Health in poverty needs to be looked at more seriously and more closely, and thanks to Crossroads I am now able to do just that.

-- Erica Lampert

Monday, February 27, 2017

#theVIPExperience Post #6: Michael Liggett

Prior to coming to Crossroads, my path has been somewhat different than many of the VIP’s I enjoy working alongside of. Though my initial degree is in Geography, I also grew up traveling the country in pursuit of a profession in a winter-focused sport: skiing. This experience led me to being on the patient end of things more often than I would have liked.  It also led me to a greater understanding of what others encounter in the face of physical ailments, economic burdens or time constraints. Beyond this, the competitive ski path was the beginning to my open-eyed journey of those around me in the fleeting moments while I passed from town to town. The experience may have had little direct impact on my interest in medicine, but it led me to see new worlds and the people contained within them.

In a semi-conscious awareness that most teens have, I was able to recognize and chat with those around me, usually in bus stations or train depots. It was the initial step that led to my interest in the stories that their pages of life contained, the struggles they faced, and the unusual perspectives that I had never known growing up in suburbia the way I did. These stories harvested over time into my own mental landscape and unbeknownst at the time, became the first steps that led me toward applying to Crossroad’s Volunteer Internship Program nearly a decade later.  I couldn’t be more grateful for the way the path led me here.

As a VIP, I have been allowed the opportunity to be involved with an organization that takes my previous perspectives a step further. Not only has it allowed me the opportunity to see the community around us in much closer proximity and to learn more about those within it, but it has allowed me to connect and engage. I'm given a chance to empathize with a patient's situation at hand, and most importantly, to act in the interest of the patient’s needs.  Ultimately doing so with the hope that  they can lead healthier lives, be more fruitful toward their own purpose, and act as a guiding light to the next person along their path.

It would be a lie to allude to a belief that every single call runs fluidly, health is restored, and the process of A-to-Z is taken care of in the blink of eye. When it comes to simply attempting to schedule a referral appointment for a patient in need, you tend to remember past trials and tribulations in your life as not so bad after all.  I write that somewhat kiddingly.  But there are moments where it feels like you’ve been re-directed for the past hour, only to be told that the provider doesn’t accept the patient’s insurance. It feels like that because, well - because that’s what occurs.

In these times, it’s easy to get caught up in the personal level of misfortune and frustration, without even conscious awareness.  But then swiftly comes the reminder that without your assistance as a VIP taking the time to make that call, the patients we serve would have to face the same frustrations (if not worse) than you just did. All the while, they also have to tend to their families, get their children to childcare, get to work on time, try and maintain nutritional meals for dinner, pay the rent… the list goes on and on and on.  And this is even before taking care of themselves and following the doctor’s orders they were given during their appointment.

In essence, a simple fact that I once read from former UCLA basketball coach John Wooden lays true on a daily basis when I am at Crossroad.  That is, “the little things are the big things." The opportunity to assist the community we serve with the ‘little things,’ like making those phone calls to get their referral appointments, allows the fulfillment of the patient to be present with their family and their community when the opportunities arise. It allows the load they are carrying to be just a little bit lighter.  It provides a chance for the patient to be in a place where the ‘big things’ cannot only occur, but can be cherished with healthier, better lives.

The VIP experience has been my first real step toward connecting ideology with action, and I’m very grateful for the opportunity.

-- Michael Liggett

Monday, February 20, 2017

#theVIPExperience Post #5: Rachel Haney

When I applied to be an intern last summer, I knew Crossroad Health Center was an incredible place. Here in Cincinnati, Crossroad serves over 11,000 patients who struggle to access affordable healthcare—regardless of their ability to pay. As a nursing student who is passionate about public and global health, I was excited to be teaming with providers at Crossroad to continue their work in our city. 

At that time, I still didn't fully know how much this internship would affect me. I was ready to learn about the referral process, how to make phone calls to patients, how request records from/fax documents to offices, and how to document in the electronic health record. I was ready to be learning about how a federally-qualified health care center runs, ready to meet patients in the office, and ready to schedule as many appointments as possible.  
But I hadn't really prepared myself to hear all the stories of the patients here. To talk about their experiences, their struggles, their challenges, their life stories. During brief phone calls or while scheduling appointments in-person, there is time to listen and simply talk about life. While I perform my tasks as a volunteer (or VIPs as we're called around here!) such as looking up providers who are in network or waiting on hold, talking to the patients is a part of every shift.  

I have listened to a homeless man talk with joy about his jobs and his dream to have his own apartment one day. Heard a single mother worry about balancing her family and her multiple part-time jobs. Discussed bus lines and transportation issues with a young woman trying to find a job. Listened to a man's fears about losing his job after his recurrent seizures. In between the phone calls and documentation, there are opportunities to hear their stories. 
As interns we are focused on handling referrals and scheduling appointments. During shifts it is easy to forget that our patients are people, each with individual stories, backgrounds, and challenges. It is an honor to partner with them and to help ease a burden. By completing a simple, yet time-consuming task, you say, "you matter, your stories matter." 

Looking back over the past six months at Crossroad, I am so grateful for theopportunities I have had. I have gained experience working here and been able to communicate directly with patients every shifta rewarding job. Most of all though, I am grateful for the stories I have been able to hear. As I partner with these patients, they open up about their livesand thus open up my eyes to theoften overlooked challenges and joys of their lives.

-- Rachel Haney

Monday, February 13, 2017

#theVIPExperience Post #4: Mitchell McMurray

I have noticed that in my six months of volunteering at Crossroad Health Center, each shift is different. Each patient is unique and as a result, each case requires a different quality out of me. Many times it’s empathy or compassion, but sometimes it is patience and adaptability. I quickly realized that scheduling a referral very rarely goes smoothly from beginning to end.  However, I think that’s what makes being a VIP fun. Here’s a quick example: there was case when I met with the patient in office and she gave me her strict availability. I made the appointment following the days and times she was available. However, when I called her to go over the appointment details, her availability had changed and I had to reschedule the appointment. It took several more calls to both the physician office and the patient to get everything finalized. During times like those, I have to remind myself that patience is a virtue. Additionally, I can’t tell you how many times I have been in the middle of working on a referral only to be asked to focus my attention on a different one by my referral team physician or a Medical Assistant. It sounds frustrating, but it’s an illustration of how much we are needed. A key quality of a successful VIP is the ability to adjust your work to fit the needs of the team. Crossroad needs us to break the barriers associated with their providers’ referrals. Specifically, we need to ensure that their patients are able to have scheduled appointments with specialists and that those patients actually attend the appointments. With that goal in mind, it was pretty easy to teach myself that I need to be adaptable enough to accommodate as many patient cases as possible during my shift. Every patient is important. Using that logic has led me to realize that every patient also has a story. Stories of economic hardship, addiction, life-threatening accidents, and immigration are what get me out of bed every Tuesday morning to drive to Crossroad. As a VIP, I realize that I play a role in the fight these patients have against their obstacles. Every time I schedule an appointment for them, I hope they are one step closer to getting to where they need to be. It’s not an easy thought process to maintain, but I didn’t sign up for easy. Crossroad continues to challenge me every week and for that I am truly grateful.

     -- Mitchell McMurray