Outreach Gives Patients a Supporter to Lean On

Supporters of Health 177
Enrique Catana, left, visits cancer patient Santos Argueta at his Winston-Salem home.

Santos Argueta speaks softly by nature. But his voice drops to a whisper and he gets choked up when describing a Wake Forest Baptist Health program that provides him with a friend to navigate the myriad issues he faced while fighting cancer.

“It makes me feel so happy,’’ says Argueta, 54, whose inability to speak English has caused problems since he was diagnosed with a tumor on his back in 2013. “I’m so happy someone can help me with my journey.’’

Argueta’s words are translated by Enrique Catana, one of five Wake Forest Baptist Supporters of Health, who work with people before, during and after a hospital stay to get them the assistance they need to ensure good health. That assistance covers everything from making sure people take their medicines in the right dosages and at the right time to connecting them with resources that help them pay utility bills or rent.

People are referred to the Supporters of Health program by health care providers, medical center staff, faith communities or simply by word of mouth. Supporters of Health often become a patient’s friend, providing a vital link that keeps them healthy and lets them know someone cares.

Catana was born in Mexico City and came to the U.S. 15 years ago. After 10 years in radio, he joined the Environmental Services team at Wake Forest Baptist. Soon after he began work, however, his boss saw Catana’s skill with people, and suggested Catana apply to become a Supporter of Health. 

Catana’s ability to speak Spanish is providing an important connection in parts of Winston-Salem where many patients can become bewildered trying to deal with their needs and the complexities of health systems and government agencies. 

Supporters of Health graphic 200The Supporters of Health are assigned to patients and residents in disadvantaged neighborhoods in Winston-Salem where people are more at risk for chronic diseases such as diabetes and hypertension. The program aims to help people maintain their health, and avoid readmissions to the hospital and emergency room visits for routine medical care.

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The Supporters of Health assist patients through frequent calls and home visits, connecting them with what they need to support their mental, physical, social or spiritual well-being.

Catana focuses on the Spanish-speaking community and people such as Argueta. After receiving surgery to remove the tumor from his back, Argueta underwent six weeks of chemosurgery and later developed stomach problems that required surgery. Argueta’s doctors recently declared him cancer-free, and he hopes to return to work as a painter soon. 

Until he can return to work, Argueta is spending his days at his apartment in the Willow Creek complex in northern Winston-Salem. He is very social and has bonded with neighbors, who visit regularly and occasionally bring him food. 

During a recent visit with Argueta, Catana held his shoulder and the two men slowly and emotionally chanted a brief prayer of thanks in Spanish. Argueta clutched a tissue throughout Catana’s visit.

Beyond the companionship, Catana has helped Argueta navigate agreements with utility companies and connected him to other agencies that assisted in overcoming financial hardship during his lengthy illness and recovery.

Jeremy Mosely, M.P.H., project administrator of community engagement for Wake Forest Baptist and director of the Supporters of Health, says the visits and assistance are critical for Argueta and the 300-plus patients now working with Supporters of Health.

In just 18 months, numbers are showing the Supporters of Health are having a positive affect. An early survey of 132 patients indicates that health care costs have declined an average of 16 percent per encounter for those patients in the six months after they partnered with Supporters of Health compared to the six months before, Moseley says.

“We can’t make the promise that we will change physical disease because that’s not our job; we know that our outstanding medical providers are the leaders in that effort,’’ Moseley says. 

“But the clinical system is slowly beginning to blend with the community and we want to serve as a bridge to make that happen,’’ Moseley says. “We all need each other.’’

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Last Updated: 01-25-2016
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