By Tamera Manzanares
The patient made his way down the hallway with labored breaths and heavy steps. Suzanne Holm knew he was struggling before he even walked through the exam room door. The 62-year-old man weighed nearly 400 pounds and suffered from diabetes, conjunctive heart failure and chronic pain.
Holm, a nurse practitioner at Northwest Colorado Health’s Community Health Center, explained to him how the extra weight was exacerbating his health problems and put him at risk for dangerous complications. She encouraged him to make gradual changes to his diet and start exercising. While he seemed receptive, she worried. Would his age and health challenges make these changes too daunting? “I thought he might write me off,” she said.
He surprised her. The patient started riding a stationary bike 45 minutes every day. Holm encouraged him while closely monitoring his diabetes and pain management. Over the course of 10 months he lost 60 pounds. His A1C, a blood test gauging how well a person is managing their diabetes, improved significantly. His legs were no longer swelling, and he was taking less medication. “His overall state of health and state of mind were so much better than when I first saw him,” Holm said.
Taking the time to educate patients and empower them with tools to improve their health – and prevent expensive and potentially life-threatening health problems – is the overarching goal of Health Centers across the nation. Next week, during National Health Center Week, Northwest Colorado Health will be celebrating the tenth anniversary of its Community Health Center in Craig. The public is invited to a free barbecue 5:30 to 7:30 pm Aug. 17 at Loudy Simpson Park.
Northwest Colorado Health’s Community Health Centers in Craig and Steamboat Springs are part of a large network of Health Centers providing care to anyone who needs it, regardless of ability to pay. Health centers are located in areas identified by the federal government as having large numbers of residents whose basic health care needs are not being met because there are not enough services or they cannot afford services that do exist.
In Colorado, health centers serve nearly 600,000 patients including many veterans and people who are homeless. Since it opened, the Community Health Center in Craig has provided care to more than 9,000 residents or roughly 73 percent of the population in Moffat County.
The emphasis on preventative care has driven Northwest Colorado Health and many health centers to integrate essential services such as dental and behavioral health into their primary care model. Providing patients affordable access to more comprehensive care enables them to take responsibility for their own health, explained Gisela Garrison, Northwest Colorado Health’s Director of Community Health Centers. “We are slowly achieving a culture change; the community understands the value and need for preventative care and the importance of managing chronic diseases such as diabetes, COPD and obesity,” she said.
Helping patients better manage chronic health conditions benefits the entire health care system. A 2016 study found that Medicaid patients receiving care at health centers had fewer specialty care and hospital visits, resulting in significant savings – about 24 percent per patient – than Medicaid patients who received care from other providers. The study, which involved 13 states including Colorado, was published in the American Journal of Public Health.
Back on the front lines, Holm and other providers take pride in patients’ improvements and are proud to be part of a health care model that makes good health attainable for more people. “We take the time to instruct and work with our patients and pay attention to their progress,” she said. “We are good at what we do.”