Jimmie Kelley has been in and out of the hospital with heart attacks, and at one point, he said, he flatlined, died and went to heaven.
“Most important thing when I came back that I learned was love and forgiveness,” said the Medford resident.
He also wanted to stop the cycle of unhealthiness that led to his frequent hospitalizations. That’s where a group of Oregon Health and Science University students working in a community care network came in.
Kelley said it has now been six months since his last hospitalization, and he credited his improvement to the OHSU students assigned to him through the school’s Interprofessional Care Access Network. The students have talked through his diet and nutrition and helped him understand his medications.
“Without I-CAN, I would be lost,” Kelley told a room full of students, clients and leaders from the partner organizations that comprise the care network: OHSU, Southern Oregon Head Start, Family Nurturing Center, All-Care Health and La Clinica.
Two dozen or more people met Thursday afternoon in a combined kitchen and meeting room at La Clinica’s Wellness Center on Biddle Road to celebrate five years of the partnership that emphasizes community-focused and holistic care as a teaching program.
“The sky was the limit,” said Heather Voss, registered nurse, Ph.D., and co-manager of the program. “And, boy, did we push the limit.”
In the program’s first five years operating in west Medford, 104 patients have been served by the network. Voss said it emphasizes quality of care over the quantity of patients that can be referred.
It’s a labor-intensive undertaking, Voss said. Students make home visits with patients, help them travel to their appointments, navigate language barriers.
“We just check in with people wherever they are, and the idea is that we work with them on whatever health goals they have,” Voss said. “Oftentimes, folks are not able to be as healthy as they want to be for lots of reasons.”
The networks, or “I-CANs” as they’re referred to, were formed to give students opportunities to understand barriers to health care, such as poverty or being a racial minority.
They operate in several communities across Oregon, wherever OHSU has a nursing program, including southeast Portland, Monmouth and a new network to begin in La Grande.
Statewide, 38 percent of clients reported increased access to food, 35 percent reported improved housing, and 45 percent said their ability to manage pain had improved.
Kelley said he has been able to find part-time work since learning to manage his weight, diabetes and anxiety. He has been working with nursing student Skye Hart and dietetic student Lauren Burns in recent weeks.
The students said they benefit from working so closely with patients.
“I’m not just there teaching him how to take his medications, or help him understand more about heart failure or something,” said Natashia Cheek, about her relationship with her client Bill Kane. “I’m truly there to have a good conversation with him and to be a social outlet for him, too, and I feel in that way alone it makes a huge difference.”
Learning to work with students in other disciplines also teaches them the value of collaboration in treating the whole patient, they said.
The opportunities for students are likely to continue, as the partners signed an agreement to continue working together for years to come. AllCare Health provides funding for Voss to run the program and oversee the students’ work and progress.
“I notice that there are times when we can just sit there and talk for the whole hour,” Cheek said. “It just shows me that even the little things make a huge difference for our clients, and truly understanding that has been invaluable to me. ... Because of Bill, I’m going to care for my patients better.”
Reach Mail Tribune reporter Kaylee Tornay at 541-776-4497 or firstname.lastname@example.org.