Touching Every Base
Guide Links People to Services for Better Lives
By Rebecca Jones
High Plains Community Health Center
Photography by Barry Staver
Leslie Conrad suffers from chronic pain brought on by years of arthritis. Between her health problems and her 17-year-old son's health issues, she acknowledges that they spend a lot of time at the High Plains Community Health Center in Lamar.
"We take a lot of maintenance," says Conrad, 52.
She is especially grateful to Kacee Lucero, the clinic's patient navigator, who over the years has helped Conrad fill numerous prescriptions and repeatedly has functioned as her advocate.
But what pleases Conrad the most are the shoes Lucero got for her. "I have a lot of problems with my foot, and I'd been in a big, heavy walking boot for five years," she says. "But Kacee found me some specialty shoes and orthotic inserts and compression hose. Altogether, they cost around $300, but I got them free. It's something I couldn't have done otherwise – not on my income. I'd still be in that walking boot. But just to get back into a pair of shoes is great."
Arranging for donated orthotics is all in a day's work for Lucero, who spends her day matching people to resources and ensuring they don't fall through the cracks. Whatever it takes to help people get and stay healthy, that's what Lucero is there to do.
"I've gone out to people's homes and helped them learn to use their glucometers or set up their medications for a week if they've got pill organizers," she says. "The clinic gives me lists of people who aren't getting in on time, who aren't getting tests done when they need to, and I call them and coordinate their appointments. I can even arrange for transportation. Just helping them get here is a big step in their lives."
Jay Brooke, executive director of High Plains, believes that what his clinic is doing now is the future of medicine. "We're really seeing an evolution in health care," he says. "It will be much different in four or five years than it is now. We're ahead of the curve at High Plains."
High Plains, which offers care on a sliding fee scale to people throughout southeastern Colorado, really emphasizes the "home" in "medical home." It goes beyond simply helping low-income residents see a medical provider or get access to low-cost medication. It addresses whatever other problems are affecting their health.
"They may need housing assistance or food assistance," says Brooke. "It's critical that we be there for clients and be able to provide the full spectrum. Whatever you need, let us help you figure out how to get it."
Brooke is convinced such wraparound care will do more to improve the health of his clinic's clients than hiring the best doctors money can buy. That's because only a small fraction of the average person's health is related to quality of medical care. Heredity plays a greater role, and greater still are lifestyle choices.
"The housing you're in, the food you eat, the drugs or alcohol you use, all the things you decide every day to do or not do – these are all major determinants of whether you'll be healthy or not," Brooke says. "So your doctor's office should look at all these things. We should screen to see whether you're depressed, whether you use alcohol. Some patients are going to need more of these resources than others, but treating the whole person, integrated care, is something all doctors will need to start doing at some point."