The complex, often fragmented American health care system can be a daunting world to navigate. For those struggling with additional non-medical challenges such as lack of transportation, limited finances and homelessness, the path to effective medical care can seem insurmountable. In March 2016, National Jewish Health opened the Comprehensive Respiratory Care Clinic, part of the Kaiser Permanente Center for Prevention and Healthy Living at National Jewish Health, to help disadvantaged and underserved patients get better care.
Navigators Julie Dezell, RN; Elizabeth Gonzalez, PN; Brittany Lee, PN; Elizabeth Johnson, RN, BSN, MBA; and Maria Carrillo, PN; help patients overcome barriers to obtaining and paying for health care.
Funded by a three-year, $1 million grant from the Kaiser Permanente Foundation, the clinic relies on a team effort, led by pulmonologist Jason McCarl, MD, and Nurse Manager Kaci Chacon, RN, BSN. Social support provided by three “patient navigators” is a unique and crucial element of the clinic. The navigators help patients overcome barriers to care, ranging from finding affordable medications to arranging transportation, and taking extra time to identify and discuss anxieties.
“We’re part medical assistant, part patient navigator. Sometimes we’re social workers,” said Brittany Lee, one of the clinic’s three patient navigators and one of two Spanish-speaking clinic staff members.
Patient Harold Tuttle worked in construction before his health deteriorated. “I couldn’t breathe,” he said. After years of “toughing it out,” he went to National Jewish Health. One of the answers for Tuttle was putting him on portable oxygen, enabling him to leave his apartment and walk comfortably to the bus stop a few blocks away for the first time in years.
“They’re a different breed of people,” said Tuttle. “I don’t think anyone could do as much good as they do.”
“It’s rewarding,” said Lee.
It is also proving effective. Fewer patients are missing appointments, a previously common problem for this underserved population. Recent surveys also indicate that 98 percent of the clinic’s patients are satisfied with their care.