Marie Kharifene thought she was on a routine call to check on a WellMed patient who had been out of contact with his care team in Houston. The elderly man, who lived alone, recently was discharged from the hospital after a tracheostomy. His care advocate knew he was having trouble swallowing and had developed pneumonia.
He couldn’t talk, so he couldn’t answer the phone. The advocate reached out to WellMed’s team of community health workers for help in reaching him.
When Marie received the assignment, she adjusted her schedule to conduct a home visit the same day. But she started to get nervous as GPS took her far out into the country, where her connection became spotty.
Her anxiety grew when she discovered the patient’s trailer home had no vehicle access. She nervously left her car to make the five-minute walk to his home, concerned a loose dog or other wild animal might attack.
As soon as Marie knocked on the front door, loud noises came from inside the trailer. She started to shake in fear.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “Normally I wouldn’t just walk in, but I had to take a chance.”
Marie pushed open the door and found the patient on the floor in soiled clothing, nearly unconscious.
She called 911. The ambulance crew couldn’t find the trailer at first, so Marie ran down the road and turned on her car’s hazard lights as an emergency beacon.
“I was so relieved when they arrived, because now I knew the patient would get the help he needed.”
When a patient is hard to reach, community health workers step in. If they fail to locate a patient on the first visit, they leave contact information behind. If they still don’t hear from the patient, they make a second visit.
Currently, the team makes contact with 45.6% of the patients they set out to find. But they do more than connect the patient with their care team.
“We want to make sure our patients get the care they need,” said Marie, who is in her first year at WellMed. “We want to help them be well and avoid hospital stays. Also, if we see a need such as food or a new walker to replace one that is taped together, we let them know how WellMed can help.”
The job, she says, is incredibly rewarding. “I was born and raised in N’djamena, Chad (Central Africa), where there was no equality in health care and underserved communities,” she said.
At age 17 she moved to Houston, Texas with her family. “What led me to do this work is my passion to help people,” she said. “This experience has made me realize that as a community health worker, I am helping to improve access to care and reduce hospital admissions,” Marie said. “I am happy to have the opportunity to go above and beyond for our patients. Their well-being is a top priority of WellMed and I am proud to be a part of the team.”
The 77-year-old patient was hospitalized and discharged home where he continues to recuperate with assistance from the Supportive Care team.
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