Health Guardians helps people be advocates
Having a positive track record of reducing the frequency of overusing emergency rooms and teaching clients to be advocates for their own health have earned Health Guardians of Catholic Charities Archdiocese of New Orleans several recent awards.
Health Guardians received the “Innovation in Case Management Practice” award at the annual National Association of Case Management Conference held in New Orleans. Health Guardians’ program director Seema Dave also presented her program at the conference.
“They were looking for novel ideas to inspire other (health care management) programs to do something different, to push the limits with a quality program,” said Dave, who led a breakout session on Health Guardians at the conference. “What sets us apart is a team approach. Sometimes, patients need a multi-dimensional approach. It could take several patient navigators to connect to them on different levels. Whatever it takes to motivate these patients, (we try).”
In addition, Health Guardians earned recognition for quality of care and leadership from the Louisiana Quality Foundation with the Louisiana Performance Excellence Awards Program. This is the first step to earning the national Baldridge Award, Dave said.
Health Guardians, established after Hurricane Katrina in 2010 and funded mainly by grants, works closely with clients to improve their overall health. Client navigators educate clients on all aspects of their health and work with other agencies to eliminate a patient’s health barriers, no matter what they are.
During an initial interview, Dave said navigators ask patients their goals. It’s not necessarily the patients’ health that puts them at risk. Sometimes, it’s lack of housing or food. Health Guardians then connects them with the resources they need, such as medication-assistance programs and making sure they apply for Medicaid/Medicare, transportation assistance (RTA bus passes) to get to a doctor or counseling appointments, and uses partnerships such as with Second Harvest or signs them up for food stamps to provide food.
“What’s different about this program is that patients, once they enroll, get an understanding of their overall health, and patient navigators use motivational techniques,” Dave said. “Some patients (depending on the care needed) are called once a day (and get house visits). The turning point occurs when patient navigators go with clients to the doctor and ask questions about why patients are taking medications. Over time, it teaches patients how to navigate for themselves. People start to take charge of their health. It’s amazing to see these drastic changes in our clients. It’s a 180-degree change in patients.”
Health Guardians has slots to help 100 clients. On staff are four patient navigators, one social worker and a medical director. The average time for patients in the program is three months, Dave said.
When the program began, Health Guardians relied mainly on the Louisiana Interim Hospital (now University Medical Center) for client referrals. Since August, a new initiative called the Greater New Orleans Primary Care Quality Improvement Initiative has Health Guardians receiving its referrals mostly from 11 clinics and a local hospital.
“Why not do it for the clinics?” Dave said. “A lot of people are falling through the cracks since Medicaid expansion was denied in Louisiana. This allows us to work with these patients and clinics so they learn what to do.”
Dave said validation that Health Guardians’ method is working came when one of its partners began tracking patients during and after they finished the program graduation and then backtracked previous emergency room visits. It was discovered that approximately 73 percent of participants had a decrease in ER visits and overall hospital visits. Three months after the program, 91 percent of patients decreased ER visits, Dave said, and 78 percent reduced total hospital visits.
“This study has really helped us get funding,” Dave said, and it’s brought attention from potential future partners.
The benefits for clients have been fulfilling for everyone associated with Health Guardians.
“It’s changed not just their overall physical health but their mental health,” Dave said. “It’s given some of the patients a motivation to live, to regain their motivation to improve their health and take control of their lives. Our patient navigators have passion for helping passion. They really care.”