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Donation helps connect patients to food, housing

Andy Atkinson / MAil TribuneRuby Maley stands outside the La Clinica Center off Chevy Way in Medford.
La Clinica receives $300,000 donation from Regence

Whether it’s aid for someone struggling to pay the rent or groceries for a person quarantining with COVID-19, Ruby Maley knows how to connect people to resources that can improve their health.

She’s the leader of a six-person community resource specialist team for the local health network La Clinica.

“The mission that my team has is we don’t want our patients to fall into any gap in care,” Maley said. “By them having this support system, it helps patients to continue following through with their medical appointments and be more active with their care.”

Experts estimate only 10% to 20% of a person’s health is tied to what happens at a doctor’s office. The rest is determined by factors such as a person’s housing, income, access to food and connections with family, friends and the community.

Improving those aspects of people’s lives can boost their health.

Launched this summer, La Clinica’s community resource specialist team is getting a helping hand from Regence. The insurance company recently announced it’s donating $300,000 to La Clinica.

La Clinica, in turn, is passing $25,000 each to the local social services agency ACCESS and shelter and to housing provider Rogue Retreat.

They’re all part of a community network that’s working to connect people with the help they need to live better lives.

La Clinica is also using part of the money it received to train three people to become health outreach specialists. They’ll visit patients at their homes to provide basic medical care such as checking blood pressure, medications and blood sugar levels, said Ed Smith-Burns, La Clinica’s community partnership director.

While there, the specialists will look for obstacles that might be standing in the way of better health for the patient. La Clinica will focus on patients who are having problems complying with their care plan or making it to appointments, Smith-Burns said.

“The health outreach specialist will visit those patients in their homes to get a better perspective on what’s going on with the individual,” he said.

Although help is out there, Smith-Burns said it’s not easy for the average person to figure out which organization provides what service. La Clinica’s community resource and health outreach specialists are there to connect patients with the right services.

Smith-Burns said La Clinica staff often treat patients who are facing obstacles to better health. A patient might say, “I don’t have enough food to last me through the end of the month.”

The medical staff person can refer the patient to a community resource specialist, who will in turn connect the patient to a local group that provides food.

Smith-Burns said navigating the system of aid organizations was complex for the average person even before the COVID-19 pandemic and the fires of 2020 that destroyed thousands of homes in Jackson County. With need skyrocketing, more organizations are offering help.

“And really people don’t know how to even begin accessing those resources, or accessing the right resources, which is also an issue for a lot of the patients La Clinica serves. So they might think that an organization provides a particular service, just to find out that that isn’t the case,” Smith-Burns said.

Many local groups stay abreast of each other’s offerings electronically through the Unite Us technology system. The system launched in Southern Oregon last spring to connect health care providers and social services organizations.

“So what we’ve done is we’ve eliminated that dead end where we refer someone to a community partner who isn’t taking referrals anymore, or may not even be in business anymore — and then the patient doesn’t know what to do next,” Smith-Burns said.

He said La Clinica’s community resource specialists keep helping patients navigate the system until patients connect to the right organization.

Maley, the leader of the community resource specialist team, said she’s grateful for the donation from Regence that helps fund her team’s work.

“It’s definitely needed to provide these services to our patients and to better engage our population and help them feel not so alone, especially during this pandemic,” she said.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.