Since we first opened our doors, White Mountain Community Health Center has envisioned a community where everyone is able to get the healthcare they need. Over the years, our understanding of the care people need and the barriers that keep people from being able to access care has broadened and deepened. Recently, we’ve added adult dental care, substance use disorder treatment, and a Care Coordination Team.
Our Care Coordination Team consists of two community health workers and a registered nurse. This team meets with every new patient to learn about their health needs and anything that might make it difficult for them to access care. If our providers have a patient who’s struggling with something outside of traditional primary care, they’ll bring them down the hall to talk with a care coordinator. Some patients need translation services at their appointments. Others have issues in their personal lives that interfere with their ability to reduce their hypertension or manage their diabetes – it’s hard to focus on your diet when you’re losing your housing. Sometimes people need help advocating for themselves or navigating the complex medical system.
Our Care Coordination staff might see some patients just once to connect them with a resource; others they see repeatedly as they work through complex issues and try different solutions until they find one that works. Throughout, our patients know that they have someone in their corner. We won’t leave them to struggle on their own.
Jacqueline Heath grew up in Fryeburg, and first used our services almost 50 years ago when we were the Family Health Centre. We talked with her to learn more about how the health center has been here for her throughout her life.
Can you tell us about yourself and your background?
I’ve been here my whole life. I was born at Memorial Hospital when it was just one round building. I was bartending and waitressing for a lot of years, then I started managing nightclubs. That’s in my younger days. Then I went to Florida, then I came back, started to lose my eyesight, my walking, and now here I am (laughs).
When did you first come here?
I have been coming to this building for my women’s health since I was 16, and I’m now 62. So that’s quite a few years I’ve been here! Linda Wyatt was my first [primary care provider]. I loved her so much.
I wanted to know about birth control. And I would have to have my yearly exams and stuff, so I had my first one here. It was the sliding fee scale. I was a kid, my dad died when I was 17, so I did have benefits from him but I didn’t have a full-time job or anything, so it was important that I could afford to go somewhere.
I came every year, cause that’s what you do. But now, I’m in here like weekly now (laughs). It’s a wonderful place. The staff has always been really wonderful. They’ve been above and beyond anything that I could have wished for.
What are some health problems we’ve helped you with?
I did end up with an opiate problem. I can remember when I hurt my hip and they put me on Oxys or something, [nurse practitioner Deborah Cross] kept telling me, “You don’t need those anymore.” And I didn’t listen to her. The other doctor for my back kept giving them to me. I didn’t realize until I actually kept thinking about it, how long that I’d been taking painkillers. There was always something. I’d get through the tooth, then I’d have like an arm injury or something. I wasn’t in pain, but I was sick. You take a pill and ok, I’m alright, I can go to work, I can do my thing. You don’t really think about it, you just say, ok, I guess I was in pain. By the time I came to see Debbie, I was seeking anyone that I knew who had a bad tooth or just had a surgery, or, yeah. It was bad.
I was so devastated when I figured out what was going on. It was so embarrassing. And I can’t, like, stop it. If I don’t have them, I am so sick I can’t function. I thought, ok I’ll be sick a day or two. Days are going by, I’m like oh my god, when does this end? It doesn’t end, not till you get the help you need. I got in the [medication-assisted treatment] program. I had some counseling, everybody has been just great. I’m still working the program, I’m pretty sure we’ll get to a point – I’m feeling good.
As we went along, my eyesight kept getting worse and worse. I have macular degeneration. And then with COVID and them not calling me back into work – I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. [The Care Coordination Team] were like, I think you might want to apply for disability. So they helped me through that whole process, which was a nightmare. I would have never been able to do it on my own. Oh, I don’t know where I would have gone. These people are like saving my life at this point. They kept me going, they kept finding me the next step. They walk me through all of my mail, all of my Medicaid, Medicare – all that stuff, you need to know what’s going on. They’re just helpful. I mean, even if I could see, that stuff to me is like, over the moon.
I’ve got a lot going on. And my teeth, [dental hygienist] Amy’s helping me with that. So yeah, I’m everywhere in this building (laughs). And they’re warm, welcoming me in, they’re gonna take care of me.
What stands out about the health center, in your experience?
I think that everyone here is very aware of what people are experiencing or how they might need help. They kind of just slide you into where you need to be and before you know, you’re being taken care of. You don’t feel weird, or like you’re bothering someone.
I was waiting in the front one day, there was a gentleman. Somebody said something about [care coordinator] Cheryl, and I said, “She’s my everything!” He said, “She’s MY everything!” So obviously they got something good going here. They cover all bases. They really are here for you.
We are able to really be here for people like Jacki because people like you support us every year.
When you support us, you’re saying that you believe in a community that doesn’t leave people to struggle on their own. You believe it’s worth making sure everyone has someone in their corner when they’re having health issues, to help them navigate a complex and sometimes discouraging medical system, and make sure they can access needed care.
In the coming year, we’re going to keep looking for the gaps in care options and access people in our community might be falling through. We know people need more help with dental care, with transportation, with access in different languages, and we’re working to come up with solutions to these and other community needs.
I hope you will choose to stand behind this work, so that we can keep expanding what we’re able to do and be “everything” to even more people in our community.