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Focus on whole person is hallmark of Whittier health center's care

4/22/2009, 7:32 a.m.

When Adell Turentine packed up to move from Indianapolis to New York City for a new job, she certainly did not expect to end up homeless in Boston with an urgent need to refill dwindling and much-needed prescriptions.

At the urging of her son, Pastor Gerald Bell, Turentine visited the Geriatrics Clinic at Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury. Bell assured her of high-quality health care and support in finding housing.

“I have seen firsthand the care and compassion that patients receive at Whittier,” said Bell, who also serves on the board at Whittier. “I knew that my mother would be in good hands and that they would provide her with the support needed to help her get back on her feet from a health and social standpoint.”

According to Jackie Donahue, Whittier Street Health Center’s Geriatrics Case Manager, the support came quickly.

“Ms. Turentine called my office, and the next day we were able to get her in for a full health assessment with one of our physicians,” said Donahue.

That physician, Dr. Elizabeth Moran, is Whittier’s designated geriatrics doctor.

“In order to conduct a full health assessment and tackle the multitude of issues that seniors face, Dr. Moran sets aside hour-long appointments specially designed to address the needs of seniors,” said Donahue.

Turentine said she was “very happy” with the care she received.

“Dr. Moran made my appointments very exciting,” said Turentine. “For all of my problems, she assured me that ‘we will take care of that’ and ‘that will be gone.’ She was so patient.”

“I think I am going to be on every program that [Whittier has],” she continued. “I have already had an eye exam, I just visited for dentistry, and soon I will seek help for smoking cessation.”

This focus on the whole person is the hallmark of Whittier, and along with its case management, it is where the center really shines.

“The key to the case management program at Whittier is the communication and partnership between the case manager and the doctor,” explained Donahue. “After the full health assessment, I worked with Dr. Moran to ensure that appropriate follow-up appointments for oral health care and eye care were made.”

The services do not stop there. As a certified Serving Health Information Needs of Elders (SHINE) counselor, Donahue helps patients navigate Medicare and solve issues that arise regarding insurance. Whittier’s Geriatrics Clinic also helps patients access needed home health aids, visiting nurses, transportation, adult day programs and, in the case of Turentine, housing assistance.

“We helped get Ms. Turentine the certifications needed to start accessing public housing programs for the homeless, and I understand that today she is moving into a new apartment,” said Donahue.

A fixture in the Roxbury community for the past 75 years, serving 12,000 patients, Whittier Street Health Center’s mission is to provide high quality, reliable and accessible primary health care and support services for diverse populations to promote wellness and eliminate health and social disparities.

“At Whittier, we serve people from 20 different countries. Approximately 43 percent of our patients identify as Hispanic or Latino, and 42 percent as black or African American,” said Whittier President and CEO Frederica M. Williams. “In 2003, we joined the Bureau of Primary Health Care’s National Health Disparities, which was focused on improving the delivery of health care and we developed innovative clinical interventions and educational programs and services that are culturally and linguistically appropriate and address health disparities in our communities.”

As part of their commitment to the community, Whittier understands that to truly address health disparities for Boston’s underserved communities, social issues such as stable housing, poverty, unemployment and violence also need to be addressed. Through their case management system, Whittier is able to help patients access needed social services that can improve both their physical and socioeconomic health.

These comprehensive services and commitment to the community are what drew Pastor Bell to Whittier in the first place, and what are now helping Turentine stay on top of her health during a difficult time in her life.

In her own words: “I feel so much better, and when I have an appointment, I think to myself, ‘OK, I get to go to Whittier today!’ It is really just so pleasant.”