Hometown Health Team Rallies to Restore Elderly Patients Independence

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Mary Hollingsworth surrounded by her care team at UH

Like many people her age, Mary Hollingsworth makes health care a priority. The 82-year-old retired hospital housekeeper regularly visits our University Hospitals Otis Moss Jr. Health Center in her Cleveland neighborhood, where the staff helps her manage her asthma, arthritis and high blood pressure. Regular checkups like these are essential for older adults, and we go to great lengths at University Hospitals to make sure our patients receive them. In fact, we increased the number of Medicare patients in our Accountable Care Organization who have an annual wellness visit by more than 150 percent from 2018 to 2020. Costs matter, too, especially for patients like Mary on a fixed income. We’ve been able to keep our costs to one of the lowest in the nation among ACO’s while achieving exceptional quality. What makes Mary’s case unusual, however, is the herculean effort she puts forth to get to her crucial clinic visits. In short, she walks. Using a somewhat rickety walker to steady her halting gait, Mary slowly but determinedly makes her way from her Fairfax neighborhood home across five city blocks to reach the doors at UH Otis Moss. The whole journey, she tells me, takes about 20 minutes, after which she says she’s “quite tired.” At age 82, that’s likely an understatement. But it had been working for Mary. Until it wasn’t.

In the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic, Mary missed a regularly scheduled appointment at UH Otis Moss. Then another. Concerned, her health care team, nurse practitioner Evelyn Duffy, DNP, and nurse and clinical coordinator Coretha Jones, RN, reached out to Mary to try to pinpoint the source of the problem. Turns out the culprit was that rickety walker, which finally broke for good. That left Mary with no way to safely walk to her appointments – or anywhere else. So she just stopped going out. What’s more, a frustrating conversation with her insurance company left Mary no closer to getting the new walker she so desperately needed.

“I get tired, and sometimes I get dizzy and I’m worried that I might fall,” she tells me. “I really needed that walker.”

As health care professionals, our first priority is to heal. But an important corollary of healing is helping patients navigate the sometimes-byzantine world of health care so that healing is possible. And in Mary’s case, that’s exactly what happened. With Mary’s independence and ability to manage her health on the line, the team at UH Otis Moss sprang into action, researching different options for getting her the new walker she needed. Coretha Jones got the process moving, and patient navigator Alicia Stubbs ultimately was able to secure a walker from a medical charity.

Now that she has her new walker, Mary has settled back into her normal routine, walking to her appointments at UH Otis Moss and sometimes even walking around her block for exercise. Independence restored is a wonder to behold. As her health care team says, Mary is one of the many success stories that illustrate the value of good primary care in not only supporting life, but quality of life.

Individual stories like Mary’s are the heart of health care, but they’re only possible when people work together, compassionately to make them happen, from the health care provider, to the nurse, to the patient navigator and scores of others who daily make a difference for patients in our local communities. At University Hospitals, this local focus sets us apart. We are the hometown team – a group of more than 32,000 caregivers singularly dedicated to the Northeast Ohio communities where we live and serve our patients. In this case, the hometown team rallied to make Mary’s life just a little bit better. As CEO of our health system, a story like this of compassion and can-do spirit makes me immeasurably proud. I hear countless stories about our caregivers who routinely go the extra mile to uphold our UH Values – Service Excellence, Integrity, Compassion, Belonging and Trust.

As for Mary, she sums up this idea quite nicely and succinctly:
“Anything you need, they’ll try to help you with it.”
There’s no better description of the University Hospitals hometown team.

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