BALTIMORE, Md.—(March 5, 2018)— A program launched by MedStar Health last year has connected some of Baltimore’s most vulnerable residents to hospital-based community health advocates (CHAs) who ensure they receive not only routine primary health care, but vital community services.
The program piloted at MedStar Health’s four Baltimore-area hospitals in July: MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital, MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center and MedStar Harbor Hospital. There are now 15 full-time community health advocates employed throughout the region, credited with helping hundreds of Baltimore residents find support and resources.
“Social determinants have a significant impact on health outcomes. The new front-line community health advocates for MedStar Health help address this for non-medical challenges which interfere with their overall health,” said Diana Quinn, regional director of community health for MedStar Health. “These associates are members of our communities. They live in the neighborhoods and are well suited to link at-risk patients to those that can help resolve the social need. They serve as the eyes and ears of the hospital and provide ongoing support for social unmet needs, once a patient is discharged. During home visits, the CHAs make the care teams aware of the persistent and numerous social barriers that our patients face that interfere with their health or getting the care they need.”
“Integrated within each hospital’s care and case management teams, CHAs participate in patient huddles and post-discharge care planning. The CHAs are seen as a critical part of providing comprehensive patient care, and treating the whole person as part of care delivery. Our community health advocates have been instrumental in making connections to community-based resources to assist with patients’ social needs such as housing, food access, and utility assistance. They also serve as a critical part of supporting patients’ utilization of appropriate health care services,” said Dr. Dawnavan Davis, assistant vice president of community health for MedStar Health. “Their contribution has been and will continue to be significant in addressing the social determinants of health for our patients.”
MedStar Health community health advocates have helped patients who have been threatened with turn-off notices keep their power on. They’ve helped patients receive para-mobility services and aid to retrofit homes with wheelchair ramps and grab bars to increase mobility and independence.
Patients are also connected with a primary care physician if they don’t have one and given information on how to reduce the costs of their prescriptions. In some cases, community health advocates have helped patients sign up for food stamps and connected primary caregiver family members with financial resources.
The Community Health Advocate Program is part of MedStar Health’s commitment to serve the needs of the community in a holistic way. The program is intended to keep patients out of the revolving door of hospital readmissions for chronic conditions and help them navigate a complex web of social services. Community health advocates are hired from the areas they serve, further boosting the connections between community and hospital.
Sherri Harper, a community health advocate at MedStar Union Memorial Hospital, called the work a “dream job.” In one case, she was able to help a patient in her eighties have a StairGlide installed in her home and helped the patient obtain a grant toward her energy bills so her service would not be shut off.
“It’s hard for individuals to obtain information on their own because a lot of people are not computer literate,” Harper said. “I can do that for them and make sure we’re getting the right information and they’re being helped the way they need to be helped.”
Rebecca McGougan, a community health advocate at MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital, describes her job as “missionary work.” She said she had experience in advocating while caring for chronically sick family members. “I’m going to knock every door down until they get the help they need,” she said. “When people come in the hospital it’s not just about their health, it’s about the disparities they’re going through and they don’t know where to look for resources.”
About MedStar Health
MedStar Health is a not-for-profit health system dedicated to caring for people in Maryland and the Washington, D.C., region, while advancing the practice of medicine through education, innovation, and research. MedStar’s 30,000 associates, 6,000 affiliated physicians, 10 hospitals, ambulatory care and urgent care centers, and the MedStar Health Research Institute are recognized regionally and nationally for excellence in medical care. As the medical education and clinical partner of Georgetown University, MedStar trains more than 1,100 medical residents annually. MedStar Health’s patient-first philosophy combines care, compassion and clinical excellence with an emphasis on customer service. For more information, visit MedStarHealth.org.