Student of Health

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OCH Patient Aleta Girard Makes Health a Personal Initiative to Better Herself and the Community at Large          

If the ability to be candid is a strength, Aleta Girard is one strong woman. A longtime resident of The Dalles, she’s someone who isn’t afraid to speak her mind when it comes to health care or her own medical needs. However, she’s also not afraid to talk about her vulnerabilities. She’s struggled with weight, a number of physical ailments, and Type II diabetes.

In spring 2017, Aleta came to One Community Health (OCH) and saw Art Ticknor, MD. In reviewing her medical records prior to the appointment, Ticknor knew that a number of non-OCH providers had recently seen Aleta and denied her plea for prescription pain medication to treat low back pain, which had been plaguing Aleta chronically, particularly at night.

“I never had any intention of abusing pain pills but needed something for a short time period just so I could sleep,” Aleta says. “I planned to do physical therapy, but this was right when I was waiting for Oregon Health Plan’s approval for that therapy, so I had to wait a few weeks for that to kick in before I could start PT."

During that appointment, Ticknor listened to Aleta’s frustrations and validated her request for help.

“I just remember, he really understood why I needed my pain pills,” says Aleta, recalling he prescribed her a 30-day supply of pain medication. “I didn’t even take them all…only about 12 or 14 because I only took them at night and soon started my physical therapy. Since doing that physical therapy, I’ve been pain free.”

When Ticknor relocated back East last summer, Aleta was reassigned to Allison Hoffman, MD, who had just come onboard at OCH.

“I wasn’t sure how it would go, but I loved his replacement,” she says. “She's sweet, she listens, and she doesn’t argue with you. We just clicked. And if I need help finding a specialist or don’t care for one I’ve seen, she has no problem helping me with that.”
 

Exploring options to further help Aleta through Medicaid benefits, Hoffman gave her a referral to use Pacific Source flex dollars for a three-month exercise subscription at Water’s Edge.

“I had a frozen shoulder and was able to swim it out and work it out on some of the machines,” she says.

As a result, Aleta has lost some weight and feels better. Inspired, she’s also started nutritional counseling with Caitlyn Witte, BSCN, who has provided guidance around Aleta’s number-one objective. Aleta’s dream, she says, is “to be diabetes-free.”

“Caitlyn went over my sugars with me, and she also gave me a list of foods that are good, bad and indifferent,” she says. “This approach is really clear—I know exactly what I can eat or avoid. I’m also going to keep a food diary for 30 days, and she’s helped me with setting some other goals. What I like is that I can do this at One Community Health, where I’m also seeing Dr. Hoffman. It’s all covered by the Oregon Health Plan, and it’s all under one roof.”

No stranger to eating healthy, Aleta says she’s strived to make the right choices in spite being strapped for cash and having chronic health issues. In fact, she was one of a number of medically challenged individuals whose families were chosen to pilot the VeggieRx program.

“Sometimes it’s tough for me to get the vegetables and fruits I want—things get picked through quickly at the market,” she says. “But I do love my fruits and veggies, and I’m grateful…it’s generally a good program.”

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Simply out of curiosity, Aleta embraced the opportunity to become a member of OCH’s Patient and Family Advisory Committee, created last fall by Kristine Mier, our community liaison.

“When you think of an advisory committee, it’s usually an in-house sort of thing, just with doctors and nurses and other leaders on it,” she says. “But One Community Health wants to hear from its 'customers'—and that’s really different and great! They’ve opened up what’s usually a closed cell and made it so we can learn more about it and get engaged with the health care of a local clinic.”

For Aleta, the experience has been transformative in a number of ways. For example, she’s become quite the student, learning about the medical system, providing patient feedback on potential OCH projects or initiatives, and gaining insights around health insurance and all its complexities. As such, she’s feels more educated, enough to even speak up and “correct” her friends and family when they’re misunderstanding something about health care or how “the system” works. She’s also taken the initiative to connect a number of new patients to OCH providers and services. For instance, although her son is not a patient with us, our assisters recently helped sign him up for the Oregon Health Plan on his only day off work because he couldn’t get that service through his non-OCH health care provider that day.

“Just the fact that a business is allowing us to provide our opinions and what we say will get heard by the board, that’s huge,” Aleta says. “I definitely feel empowered. It helps me feel like I have a say in my health care.”

Before joining the OCH community, Aleta had the perception that perhaps our care wasn’t intended for people like her. She thought it was only for vulnerable migrant workers but now knows it’s for everyone.

“One Community Health has really changed a lot over the years, and there is so much that’s offered to so many different types of people,” she says. “It surprised me because I had a different idea about ‘clinic health’—never thought I’d go there. But I love it. It has been a great experience. In fact, I get better care, there are so many different services offered here, and it’s right in my back yard, whenever I need it.”