Doctor holding the hand of a patient.

Foundation Support Enables GR Clinic to Hire Key Health Worker

At Catherine’s Health Center in Grand Rapids, patients are treated with dignity and respect, but many face obstacles when it comes to engaging in their own health care.

The safety net clinic provides over 7,000 free and low-cost medical services a year to their patients. The people who seek care at Catherine’s are often low-income and oftentimes un- or under-insured.

Executive director Karen Kaashoek said the population served by the clinic might struggle with getting time off work, having reliable transportation to make their appointments or even trusting the medical establishment in the first place. To bridge the gaps between the community and the clinic, Catherine’s is hiring a community health worker. Funding for the position was made possible by a two-year $50,000 grant from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation.

The community health worker is expected to support the health care professionals at Catherine’s by directly working with patients in need of one-on-one education and motivational support. Kaashoek is hopeful that a trusted person who lives and works in the neighborhood served by Catherine’s will improve no-show rates at the center and ultimately improve clinical outcomes for chronic health conditions.

“They (community health workers) have their feet in both worlds,” Kaashoek said. “They’re part of the medical side but they’re also a member of the community.”

“It’s a wonderful opportunity and one that is particularly important for those who are underserved in the community who oftentimes lack transportation and other resources,” explained Jim Byrne, chair of Catherine’s board of directors.

Catherine’s has been the recipient of past grants from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation.

Attendees at a recent grant presentation

Left to right: James Haveman, Jim Byrne, Senator Winnie Brinks, Karen Kaashoek, Cle Jackson, senior community liaison, BCBSM, and Raul Hernandez, director of development, Catherine’s Health Center.

“We have been the beneficiary of a number of grants from both Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan and the Blue Cross Foundation and we truly would not be where we are in our organizational development without the support,” Kaashoek said.

At a grant presentation event on Monday, Nov. 11, James Haveman, board member and finance committee chair, BCBSM Foundation, said the grant is just one of many examples of ways the foundation is funding innovative, research-driven projects in communities of need.

State Senator Winnie Brinks was also on hand at the presentation. With a background in nonprofit work, Brinks said she would often refer people to Catherine’s before embarking on her political career. She’s excited to see the clinic move forward with staff to help support the needs of patients.

“Community health workers are one of those really important (positions) that really do help make sure that people get the services that they really need,” Brinks said.

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Photo credit: Moyo Studio

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