Giving Patients With Complex Health and Social Needs a Platform to Tell Their Stories

The National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs gives patients who face barriers to care and in their everyday life a platform to tell their stories and a chance to meet others facing similar issues, said Maritza Gomez, program assistant for community engagement at the Camden Coalition of Healthcare Providers. About a dozen consumer scholars will attend Putting Care at the Center, the National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs' conference December 5-7 in Chicago.

What is the consumer scholarship program that The National Center for Complex Health and Social Needs runs?
The consumer scholarship gives opportunity for different people to come out and speak about their medical and social complex needs. It gives them a chance to meet with other people, network, and just talk about the barriers of what they face in their everyday life.

Who are the recipients of The National Center’s consumer scholarships?
There are 17 national consumers right now, and they’re from all over the state [of New Jersey]. A lot of them are caregivers, a lot of them are state and local advocates, a lot of them are homeless people. It’s just different people with different stories that The National Center is just really lucky to have and just be able to hear their story and what they’ve been through.

One of the stories that sticks out to me right now is a woman that she was a caregiver, which I can relate to, because she has taken care of her relative for a very long time, and the struggle of what it is to take care of someone. [Providers] don’t think about the caregivers. They think about the patient. But if the caregiver is not taken care of, who is going to take care of their patient?

[The caregiver and patient] faced a lot of barriers with medicines, transportation, and not having that support from someone else, it’s really hard to take care of someone else if you’re not taking care of yourself.

How is the consumer voice often overlooked when they’re speaking with providers?
So, how it’s overlooked is mostly, [with] a lot of providers, it’s a power struggle with them. Where they’re not listening to the consumers, they’re talking to them—talking at them, rather. And, yes, some patients do feel like providers don’t take time with them. They see them, they ask them what’s wrong, prescribe them stuff, and they’re out the door. And a lot of patients need more than that. They have several complications that they might need [to discuss].

So, some patients feel like providers need to take more time, because underneath all the medical, they also have social complex needs. Like, asking them did they eat? Are they homeless? Are they missing something? Is there someone that passed away? We don’t know these [answers] unless providers take time and [ask about] what’s really going on underneath their life.

And that social complex needs is also combined with medical, so if 1 thing is wrong, of course their medical issues are not going to be addressed as a patient.
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