Two years ago, Memorial Healthcare System hired Carmen Rodriguez, Healthcare Navigator for Memorial Hospital West and Memorial Hospital Pembroke, specifically as a nonclinical ER employee.
While she may not have the medical background of other healthcare navigators, she possesses a hard-won insight that benefits patients who have little-to-no healthcare coverage.
Focused on improving access to primary care for ER patients, Carmen facilitates Memorial’s population health initiative, which seeks to empower and educate patients on accessing healthcare and using primary care services to decrease avoidable ER visits.
In her position, Carmen guides patients through the complexities of health insurance and care management regimens. She shares community resources, such as insurance affordability programs, food banks, adult daycare, childcare, career resources, transportation services and churches that provide social services to patients in our community. She informs patients about the support services that she didn’t know existed until she needed them herself.
Born in the Bronx, New York, Carmen moved to Michigan and then Florida, thinking it would be easier raising her three children in the Sunshine State. She found work as the office manager of a daycare facility but was laid off. Suddenly, she found herself frighteningly close to being homeless.
“Stress takes a toll on the body, so of course I got sick,” she recalls. “I never thought I would have been one of those patients. I didn’t know what was going to happen. I wasn’t aware that there was a program that helped patients who didn’t have coverage, but Memorial helped me get assistance with the hospital bill. When you’re going through things, it’s wonderful to have that feeling where people know what you’re going through and to have such an amazing staff to provide you with information. It lightens the load. I’m very grateful.”
Now she’s paying forward the assistance she received years ago. The cumulative effect of her experiences, good and bad, is that she has become a resource unto herself.
“I used to work for Healthy Families, which was part of Memorial. I’ve always known a lot of resources, especially because my children and I have always volunteered. I’ve learned so much. Resources helped me along the way, and now I’m helping patients,” Carmen says.
Certified in billing and coding, she’s considering going back to school after her son leaves for college. She thinks social work might be a good fit—and of course she knows exactly where to get the support she’ll need to make that happen.
“I got a great job at Memorial, where I can go back to school and use one of the resources that Memorial has where they will help you pay a portion of college expenses. You can continue to work for Memorial and get your degree. It’s a great feeling,” says Carmen.
In the meantime, she will continue tapping into community resources and steering patients toward those beacons.
“This is a great program. Not only does it cater to patients whose immigration status is not where they want it now, but we can offer it to patients that have no status," says Carmen. "Their concern is, ‘What am I supposed to do now? I have no immigration status. I have no way of paying.’ We’re able to get those patients in as well. It shows you that this program is community driven. I’m glad to be working for Memorial and to be able to say that they’ve helped me. Because of that, I love what I do."