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athenaGives: Connecting Patients to Care in Our Communities

by Jamie Mercurio, Senior Manager, athenaGives

At athenahealth, we are tirelessly focused on our vision to help make health care work as it should. But we understand that we are just one participant in achieving that vision. Non-profit organizations like MetroWest Free Medical Program (MWFMP) in Sudbury, Massachusetts, and The Neuropathy Alliance of Texas are fixing health care from the ground up – plugging holes in the system by delivering care in some of the most extreme conditions. 

These organizations are working in our own backyards – we have our headquarters in Watertown, MA and a location in Austin, TX – supporting some of the several million Americans that are uninsured or underinsured, and who do not know how to navigate the system.

The unique efforts of organizations like these are the inspiration behind athenaGives, an initiative we started five years ago that awards cash grants to charitable health organizations working in communities where there’s an athenahealth location. I recently had the chance to meet the directors of MWFMP and The Neuropathy Alliance of Texas – previous athenaGives recipients – and learn about the unique ways they connect patients to quality care in their community:

Nancy Herlin, MHA, Executive Director, Neuropathy Alliance of Texas

JM: Tell us a bit about your organization.

NH: It may be helpful to start by defining neuropathy. Neuropathy is a nerve disease affecting the feet, legs, arms and hands with numbness, tingling, pain and weakness. It is not well publicized and is very frustrating to live well with, and there is no cure.

Unfortunately, one out of every 15 people in the U.S. is living with this disease. Our mission at the Neuropathy Alliance is to build awareness around the disease, and provide education, research, resources and emotional support to patients and their families. We help connect patients to information and resources, so they can live well with their neuropathy.

JM: Can you share a story about a time you connected a patient to care?

NH: In 2014, a patient, we’ll call him Sam, came to one of our support group meetings for the first time. His neuropathy was so bad that he had no feeling in his arms, legs and even his face. His life had changed drastically because of his neuropathy and he could no longer participate in his passion of competitive ballroom dancing with his wife. We happened to have a guest speaker (something we do often) talking about acupuncture at the meeting and Sam decided to give it a try.

Two months later, we saw him again after acupuncture treatments and he had regained feeling in his arms and legs! Six months after that first meeting he was back to ballroom dancing with his wife. I asked him if he would have tried acupuncture on his own and he replied there was no way he would have considered it had he not attended the meeting. While his symptoms have much improved, Sam still attends our meetings to continue learning about neuropathy and to help connect with and support others.

Kim Prendergast, Executive Director, MetroWest Free Medical Program

JM: Tell us about MetroWest Free Medical.

KP: The MetroWest Free Medical Program (MWFMP) is a volunteer-physician led program that has been providing free health care services to the underserved in Boston’s MetroWest communities since 2004. Through the dedication of more than 250 volunteers, including about 65 clinical volunteers, MWFMP strives to serve as an entry point to the health care system for those who are uninsured. We do that by providing general medical and specialty care at no cost through our walk-in and appointment-based evening clinics, and by supporting our patients by connecting them to other community resources, providing assistance with health insurance applications, and referring them to a permanent medical home. MWFMP served 1,207 patient visits in 2014 with over 800 distinct patients.

JM: Would you share an example of how you connected a patient to the care they needed?

KP: Yes, in fact it happens every day. Before I share a story, I do want to provide some background.

The Affordable Care Act and expansion of Medicaid has meant that more people in Massachusetts have access to health insurance and primary care. As a result, patients still relying on MWFMP tend to have some of the biggest challenges to access health care: for instance, they might lack transportation, not speak English, or have limited health literacy.  This is the population we serve.

A story I can share: One of our patients needed a referral to a specialist. We were able to make the appointment for the patient, but she told the volunteer nurse she didn't have transportation.

The Patient Navigator, who had been interpreting for the patient in Portuguese, suspected the situation might be more complicated. He was right. The patient actually could get to the hospital for the outpatient appointment, but said otherwise because she was concerned she wouldn't have a Portuguese interpreter, wouldn't be able to find the office, and wouldn't understand what was happening.

The Patient Navigator explained where to go and offered to meet her at the office. He interpreted during the appointment and made multiple follow-up calls to be certain the patient understood her instructions, knew where to go for a diagnostic test and that she had an English-speaking family member to accompany her. Ultimately, she was able to get her medical condition under control, enrolled in health insurance, and has been accessing primary care at the Community Health Center. 


These are only two examples of the great work happening around the country at organizations like these, each and every day.

From May 1 through July 1, non-profit organizations connecting care in the communities near our offices – metro Boston, San Francisco, Atlanta, Austin, Princeton, Chennai (India), and coastal Maine – are invited to apply for athenaGives grants ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, with awards totaling $300,000. 

If you know of a non-profit doing great work like this, tell us about them in the comments below, and encourage them to apply for an athenaGives grant


Manager of the athenaGives program.

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Comments

Submitted by gbutka - Thursday, June 4, 2015

I have become a non profit organization providing health care in Central Texas since I joined Athena Health.

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