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'No wrong door'

Health comes down to more than access to doctors at a clinic or hospital. Housing, nutrition, physical activity and employment are also closely tied to quality of life.

Sometimes people can’t access one or more of those, said Brad Russell, executive director of the Rogue Valley Family YMCA.

“Some folks just need a little bit of help for maybe a single thing, and others need multiple areas,” he said.

That’s why eight Southern Oregon nonprofits teamed up to help keep people who struggle to access more than one of those resources from falling through the cracks. Today, they’re looking to grow their reach with more partners and agencies.

The referral system, called the Rogue Challenge, includes the YMCA, Southern Oregon Head Start, Family Nurturing Center, Rogue Community Health, ACCESS, Southern Oregon Goodwill, Siskiyou Community Health Center and OnTrack Rogue Valley. It serves adults and families of all kinds, connecting them with housing help, food and preventive care, among other things.

William North, CEO of Rogue Community Health, said his organization wanted to change things for patients who described the difficulty involved with accessing what he called a “disjointed health and human services system,” as well as having to tell their story over and over again to different agencies.

“That can be demeaning and challenging and difficult,” he said.

The organizations decided to close the loop by implementing a “no wrong door” approach that could wrap people in all the services they need.

First, North said, that required the nonprofits to learn about each other. That took about a year.

“Our intent is to work together to try to adopt a model of identifying families and their needs and getting them referred as soon as possible,” said Nancy Nordyke, outgoing director of Southern Oregon Head Start.

To create that model, the group needed a system through which all of the partner nonprofits could find pertinent information about the clients to connect them not only more quickly, but also personally to any other resources they might need.

Russell said the software they chose allows for “a step above the warm handoff.”

“This is a personalized handoff, this is a personalized connection,” he said.

Rogue Community Health, with the help of federal grant funding, manages the software, called Lifespan, where the clients’ information is shared among member agencies.

Other information, including patients’ federally protected private health information about diagnoses and treatments, for example, remains accessible only to their health care provider, according to a flyer about the Rogue Challenge.

Referrals in the medical world all too often drop off unpursued, research shows, especially if patients don’t have health insurance or face other obstacles.

Rural patients who live far from medical facilities can particularly lack preventive care. Poverty also tends to be more “intense and persistent” in rural areas, according to 2017 research from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service.

The Rogue Challenge reports that 82 percent of its referrals for member appointments are completed.

Nordyke said having information about Rogue Challenge clients makes it easier on the agencies, as well.

“When you have a lot of referrals coming and you don’t know much about the situation, it’s harder to address those issues quickly,” she said.

Rogue Community Health is focusing increasingly on local students in the future.

Nikki Day, a school care coordinator working in the Eagle Point School District, identifies and connects with eligible students to help, in coordination with parents and guardians, to plug them into the Rogue Challenge system.

“I want to be a safe person for students to talk with and to make sure they get the services they need,” Day said in a press release from Rogue Community Health. She could not be reached by phone for comment.

North said the Ashland School District will begin this year to refer students into the Lifespan system. They have to limit the referrals for now, because the need is still higher than the system can support, North said.

“We’re starting small,” he said. “But we say, 10 a month — you refer 10, so that we really do have a true ‘no wrong door’ approach where people can enter the system.”

To find out more about the Rogue Challenge, contact any of the member organizations.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at ktornay@rosebudmedia.com or 541-776-4497. Follow her on Twitter @ka_tornay.

Bethany Pitts, after-school director for the Rogue Valley Family YMCA, shows kids how to make bouncy balls at Hedrick Middle School in July. The YMCA is one of several partner agencies in the Rogue Challenge that aims to connect clients with a more holistic range of services. Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune{ }