The Unsung Heroes of Stout Street Health Center
The theme of National Health Center Week 2018 - Celebrating Health Centers: Home of America's Health Care Heroes- is meant to recognize individuals who exceed the call of duty to support health centers in providing accessible, cost-effective, and high quality health care for 1.4 million homeless patients across the country. Today we celebrate Health Care for the Homeless Day. Cathy Alderman and Meredith Ritchie from Colorado Coalition for the Homeless, a national leader in providing integrated housing, health care, vocational and supportive services, creating lasting solutions to homelessness, recognize two heroes from the Coalition's Stout Street Clinic who are dedicated to caring for people despite their setbacks.
For over thirty years, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless has delivered health care to community members at risk of or currently experiencing homelessness in downtown Denver, Colorado. In 2014, having outgrown its smaller health clinic, the Coalition built the Stout Street Health Center, a state-of-the-art facility providing integrated health care in conjunction with 78 permanent supportive housing units above the 53,000-square foot health center.
The vision was simple: provide health care to meet the complex needs of an expanding homeless population. But, Stout Street Health Center is so much more than just a health facility, it is a place of compassion, kindness, and trauma-informed care, helping provide quality medical, behavioral, substance treatment services, dental and vision care, social services and supportive housing to people who often are unseen in the community.
At the core of Stout Street Health Center, a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC), are the dedicated staff—unsung heroes who work tirelessly to serve adults and children in unique ways, ever evolving the ways in which the Coalition provides care. Lead by Brian Hill, Chief Clinical Officer, and Andrew Grimm, Vice President of Integrated Health Services, the Stout Street Health Center has leaders at its helm dedicated to health care as a human right. “When my MHA graduate program classmates were rushing to add MBAs as a dual degree in order to best leverage themselves in the high stakes financial world that dominates our health system, I recognized my desire to provide health care as a right for all people, not just those who could afford it,” said Andrew Grimm.
Serving 13,613 patients in 2017 -- with 57% of patients showing improvement in chronic disease measures such as hypertension and diabetes --the Coalition is hard at work to not only serve people, but to help them achieve a higher quality of life. Margie Rodriguez, BS/RN, has served at the Coalition for twenty-seven years, and brings a level of compassion and kindness that shines through in her work. “Each individual interaction I have where I feel I have made a connection is the most rewarding part of my work. No matter what the circumstances [if patients are in recovery or not], when a patient keeps coming back and they remember you, that interaction meant something to both of us. It might take one time, two times, one hundred times, or never for them to make a change we recommend, but that doesn’t stop me for giving quality care, and they recognize and appreciate that.”
Margie grew up in inner city Chicago, which fed her commitment to give back to her community and lead her to earning her bachelor’s degree in social work. Through her work with people living with disabilities, medical work in Peru, she fell in love with hands-on service and chose to pursue her a degree in registered nursing. Upon moving to Denver, Margie was accepted at the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless clinic where she could engage in community healthcare work.
“One of the things I like about my work is to be able to help advocate for the patient as he or she navigates the healthcare system. To help work with clients and providers in a supporting role to ensure they get the best care possible,” said Margie.
Julie Sobetski, another unsung hero of the Coalition, began her career in CCH’s health care services as a volunteer. “I had a love of service, and when my youngest child was in high school, I started volunteering at the Eye Clinic and became very passionate about eye care with the strong support of Eye Clinic visionary Carol Jenkins.”
Julie was a volunteer for two years before being hired as first a Patient Navigator, and now as the Program Manager for a total of 11 years of service. The eye clinic is unique to the Coalition in that until 2009, the clinic was entirely volunteer lead. That year, the Coalition added staff, services, and equipment, making it a destination for patients throughout the region for no-cost eye care. Today, it is operated by four full-time staff including Julie and sixty volunteer providers, optometrists, ophthalmologists, and other eye professionals who are either retired or still currently working at other practices. Julie oversees the entire Eye Clinic team, helping to ensure the Coalition is able to see as many patients as possible for eye care including glaucoma, diabetes management, trauma, infections, and general eye care. Under her supervision, the clinic provided 1,591 adults and 110 pediatric eye exams in 2017.
It is no small feat to organize 60 volunteers to “staff” the eye clinic each month, but Julie does it with a smile on her face. Julie says, “It is rewarding to see the volunteers’ willingness to help people get care and to treat them with dignity. It can be very frustrating to see patients come in who have not had access to care in months or years and desperately need it, but the eye care community is full of generosity and we have worked hard to build those relationships.”
Margie and Julie are two of many unsung heroes at the Stout Street Health Center, dedicated to caring for people no matter their obstacles. With kindness, quick wit, compassion, and humor, they care for our community’s most vulnerable with warmth and respect—something these people may have not experienced in some time. It takes a special person to work at Stout Street Health Center, and Julie and Margie are no exception to that unique rule.
A healthcare hero is “someone who chooses to use their knowledge, skills and training to serve the common good and not to serve the bottom line in our broken, profit driven health care system. Everyone who works at CCH from our providers to our front desk to our accountants is a health care hero in my book,” says Andrew, and we agree.