Submitted by Unity Care NW, written by Unity Care NW Population Health Manager Dr. Nicole Fields DHSc, MPH, CHES
Unity Care NW is a local health center that makes sure everyone in our community has access to high-quality care even if they can’t afford it. I know what some of our patients are going through because I have personally experienced homelessness. One thing that many don’t realize about homelessness is how easy it is to slip through the cracks of multiple systems. Back then, I needed extra help, a hand up. Now, being in a role where I get to help those who are most in need in our community, is truly rewarding.
I started my position at Unity Care NW as Population Health Manager during the height of COVID-19. Population Health addresses factors that affect the overall health of people and communities. During the height of the pandemic, a record-breaking number of individuals were experiencing homelessness locally, families struggled to make ends meet due to increased costs, and many additional needs were not covered by insurance. So, our team increased too. We increased our efforts to get individuals enrolled in insurance, did more outreach to unhoused populations, and developed new programs to fill crucial gaps.
One new program, Hand-Up for Health, covers costs of items or short-term services that our patients can’t afford but insurance won’t cover. It’s the last stop after all other options have been explored. Recently, a patient living in poverty who was struggling with painful swelling in their legs couldn’t get up and down their stairs. Insurance covered a lift mechanism but was unable to pay for a chair. With our new program we were able to purchase the chair and get her back to independent living.
Unity Care NW provides health care for the mind and body, but we also work with patients outside the exam room to reduce barriers to living a healthy life. In addition to Hand-Up for Health, we provide mobile dental services to all the school districts in Whatcom County. We have a program that covers costs for prescriptions when patients can’t afford their medications. Our dietitian provides one on one services and healthy cooking demos and our Community Health Workers connect unhoused patients to a variety of services.
At Unity Care NW, we believe that a person’s income should never affect how healthy they get to be and every donation made to Unity Care NW helps ensure that everyone in our community has the tools and support they need to live their healthiest life.