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Community health workers do whatever it takes to help patients

Trillium community health workers

Trillium community health workers (from left): seated, Paige Newton, Barbara Rodillo, Silvia Hartsock, Kathleen Arp. Standing, John Woodie, Dawn Malliett, Robert Lee, Lauren Rodriguez, Beverly Hoberg, John Rower, Kathy Fitzgerald.

Dec. 3, 2012 (Eugene) Community health worker John Rower does whatever it takes to help his patients. He attends doctors' appointments, arranges transportation and housing, gets free or low-cost medications, arranges mental health services, and frequently visits his patients at their homes.

Using the skills of community health workers is one of the ways that the new coordinated care organizations prevent unnecessary hospitalizations and emergency room visits for people with complex medical issues. In general, they help improve their patients' health and help lower costs.

"Gatorade is a lot cheaper than a trip to the emergency room."
~ John Rower

An example of how a community health worker can do all of this happened a few days ago, Rower said. One of his patients โ€“ a woman who had been going to an emergency department at least twice a month for a variety of chronic health issues โ€“ called him saying she had been throwing up all day and felt she had possible dehydration. She wanted to go to the hospital.

"We talked. I asked her, 'Would that really be the best place to get your needs met?' We decided an emergency visit was not appropriate for what she needed," Rower said.

He went to the store and bought her a $3 bottle of Gatorade and drove it over to her house.

"I don't know how much it would have cost in the emergency room but for $3 and my time, it was a better way to help her. Gatorade is a lot cheaper than a trip to the emergency room for when it is not necessary," Rower said.

Rower is involved in a pilot project called Lane United CareConnect, which is part of Trillium Community Health Plan, a coordinated care organization. Trillium covers Oregon Health Plan clients in Lane County. Patients who have complex, chronic conditions or those who are frequently in and out of emergency departments are referred to one of the nine community health workers.

Rower works with about 30 patients at a time. He finds out what their needs and concerns are and why they are not being met. Then he helps them get through the barriers that are keeping them from getting better. The goal is to give each patient the skills they need to help themselves. As for the patient Rower helped with the Gatorade, she's only been to the emergency room once since late summer.

"A lot of times the solutions are the simplest things โ€“ the most common-sense solutions," he said.