Listening to patients to make a difference

By Carol Chavez, regionalization & partnership specialist

On my first day as a regionalization & partnership specialist for Methodist Healthcare Ministries, I hit the ground running and traveled to Brownsville, Texas, on a Sunday afternoon to attend our Sí Texas Project Convening and Evaluation Learning Collaborative sessions. Throughout the four-hour drive, I kept mentally going over potential topics of conversation. I was excited to meet our funded partners and start developing a rapport. I took that first opportunity to network with key individuals and began building relationships with sub-grantees, executive directors and other associates from partner nonprofits. Nearly a year later that continues to be the foundation of my role: forming long-lasting, valuable and trustworthy relationships with our funded partners and with community members in our 74-county service area in South Texas.

Part of my job is to also assist in managing Methodist Healthcare Ministries' Eugene Washington Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) award. The community engagement five-part series titled, Advancing Health in South Texas, aims to gather patients and key stakeholders across a 20-county area to develop a coordinated regional approach for patient-centered research and evaluation among university systems, academic institutions, managed care organizations and public health systems. The objective is to learn about patients' perspectives and important health issues in their communities to better frame conversations with stakeholders.

A month into my position, in early February 2016, I coordinated the first PCORI Engagement Series Session: What Matters to You? Methodist Healthcare Ministries, along with our partner Health Resources in Action (HRiA), hosted six, two-hour focus groups in Cameron, Hidalgo, Jim Wells, Nueces, Webb and Zavala counties. I called this trip the "South Texas county tour." Our ambitious goal was to complete all six focus groups in three days.

Hearing firsthand from community members was a great learning opportunity. I learned that wait times to see a doctor ranged from one month to six months. Some patients shared that after hours of waiting for a doctor they'd be called in only to be left confused and frustrated because the doctor didn't speak the same language. Patients expressed that they did not have a trusting relationship with their providers. It was heartbreaking to also learn that critical prenatal care was not easily accessible.

Many communities both in the Rio Grande Valley and Coastal Bend areas have a great need for Methodist Healthcare Ministries' services – to facilitate health care access, to convene key stakeholders, and to connect communities with local not-for-profits and health care providers. Being part of Methodist Healthcare Ministries' community engagement work allows me to be an advocate and bring community voices to the forefront. It enables me to be part of the conversation of health inequalities so I can work on solutions for better health services in rural areas. I believe Methodist Healthcare Ministries is creating a significant platform by bringing down communication barriers between patients and system level stakeholders so that together they can discuss opportunities to increase access and improve health.

In my new role I have a new lens and I can see our organization is on the path to implementing groundbreaking initiatives between health care systems and regional communities to impact many lives. By continuing to connect with communities, we truly bring our organizational mission into action: Serving Humanity to Honor God by improving the physical, mental and spiritual health of those least served.