Building Relationships, Not Barriers

An NHC service year encompasses a great deal. For many members, it can include living in an unfamiliar city, serving in a completely new environment, and dealing with uncomfortable situations. In my particular case, it was all three. Having lived in Philly for eight months now, I can truly say all of these challenges have allowed me to grow and develop in ways I never expected before the service term started. However, through all my experiences thus far, there has been one component that has stood out above the rest that has particularly helped reduce the barriers to healthcare access for the patients I see at Health Center 6. Throughout my time as a Patient Advocate providing Prescription Assistance Program services (PAP), the relationships I’ve molded have, in my eyes, allowed patients to take full advantage of managing their own healthcare needs.

The first time she came into my office, I was caught off guard. I was putting away insulin pens in the refrigerator when she poked her head in. “Hello, sir. Are you busy?” she asked timidly. I smiled and told her I was not and invited her to come in and take a seat. “Oh thank you so much!” She was an elderly woman, seemingly in her seventies, but with the demeanor and enthusiasm of someone much younger. I asked her for her yellow patient identification card. She quickly stopped me. “Oh it isn’t for me, sir. It’s for my brother.” Turned out, she was her brother’s sole caretaker, as all of her other family members had either passed away or lived thousands of miles away. An immigrant to this country, she harped on how she took pride in looking after her younger brother, yet how tiring it was as well. “He can’t do much on his own anymore,” she said solemnly. We chatted a bit about the weather, and about the city of Philadelphia, as I told her I had recently moved up from North Carolina. Once I was able to fill out an application for her brother’s insulin, she got up, clutching her purse to be on her way. “Welcome to Philadelphia and I know I’ll see you soon!” I made sure she had my office phone number, in case she had any questions or wanted to find out more about how PAP could help her brother. She left with a smile, and I resumed work, thinking she would be similar to any other patient I had interacted with thus far.

Two weeks later, just as I was about to leave the office for lunch, my phone rang. “Hello, Health Center 6 PAP office, this is Chamara. How can I help you?” “Hello, sir!” came the voice through the other end. I immediately recognized it. She explained to me that her brother had been prescribed more medications from his endocrinologist and they were expensive – more than $300 for a 3 month supply. I told her to come in so we could try to sort it out. “Oh thank you, sir. You are so kind!” When she arrived that afternoon, we discussed her options and through my research, found PAP programs that allowed her to get the medications her brother needed for 90% less than what she would have paid out of pocket at a retail pharmacy. She once again was overjoyed and transparently expressed her gratitude. 

As the months passed, she continued to come in regularly, updating me on not only any new medicines her brother was prescribed, but life events as well. She would stop in to tell me how she celebrated her birthday, picked up Spanish language lessons, and recently had retired from teaching English, which she had done for over 40 years. One particular day, she came in to share a particularly significant life event. She had recently become a U.S. citizen.

It was through this relationship that I began to analyze my overall impact on breaking down barriers to healthcare. As my service term comes to a close, the abundance of resources I was able to connect this patient with in just eight months showed me the ability and potential impact NHC members can truly have. The last time I saw her, I informed her that I would be preparing to leave soon, as my service term was ending. She nodded, understandingly. “Well I’m quite glad you were able to help me take care of my brother. Both as a friend and now officially as a compatriot!"

This blog post was written by NHC Philadelphia member Chamara Fernando.
Chamara serves as a Patient Advocate at Philadelphia Department of Public Health Ambulatory Health Servies: Health Center 6