Out of the Box 

  Out of the Box - Fall 2011 - Navigator Guides Way to Health

Navigator Guides Way to Health

Video Camera Health in Motion - watch our grantees tell their own story 

By Rebecca Jones

When Juan Hernandez made his way to The Action Center (formerly Jeffco Action Center) in Lakewood earlier this year, he wanted food. The sole provider for his wife and mother-in-law, Hernandez had lost his job.

For the past 43 years, the center has been a godsend for people like Hernandez, providing basic services including food, clothing, bus tokens, rent and utility assistance and school supplies for the low-income residents of Jefferson County.

But like many of the center's clients, Hernandez needed more. His serious health issues compound his financial problems. He has a history of stroke and heart attacks, for which he takes five medications. When he lost his job, he lost his health benefits. When he got to the center, he had just one week's worth of medication left for four of his five prescriptions.

Jule Hahn, an intake counselor and "health navigator" at the center, immediately recognized the urgency of Hernandez' medical situation. Hahn, a registered nurse, is trained not only to help the center's clients find food and housing, but also to provide health education and to find health care resources – in short, to help clients navigate the complex health care system.

Hahn got a referral for Hernandez to the Estes Street Community Clinic, operated by the Metro Community Provider Network next door to the center, and he saw a doctor within a week. The doctor renewed Hernandez' prescriptions, and Hahn got a pharmacy to deeply discount those prescriptions.

"They would have cost me about $300 a month," says Hernandez, 54. "But she fixed it so I only pay $30 a month for my medicine."

For the past decade, the center has offered a health clinic on-site. But people there are seen by appointment only. Center officials also wanted to serve drop-in clients. Thanks to grants from the Colorado Health Foundation, there's now a nurse on-site at all times to help clients who simply don't feel well or who could benefit from some help in navigating the health care system.

"We're unique," says Joe Haines, director of Development for the center. "When you're living in poverty, having challenges getting regular meals, healthy meals, it's not a question of if you'll get sick, but when. We provide an on-ramp to the health system that isn't available anywhere else. With our health navigators, we're able to do the education, the assessment and the referrals. It's part of the holistic package of services we offer."

Brooke Wuchner, manager of Client Services, estimates that 90 percent of the clients at the center struggle with some health problem. "But in the grand scheme of survival, it's often pushed to the back burner," she says. "They don't have the time or energy to deal with it, and the system is extremely intimidating."

That's where the nurses of the center shine. "Our typical clients come in with diabetes or blood pressure problems but no insurance," Hahn says. "And we can usually get them care within 48 hours. We can help to get them healthy again."