Calling to schedule doctor appointments, prescription refills and follow-up appointments is a headache enough already, but when English may not be your first language, the difficulty only increases.
That’s what Einstein Healthcare Network’s Russian Language Care Coordination Program is seeking to alleviate — and so far, it seems to be working.
Through a grant from the Bernard and Etta Weinberg Family Fund in partnership with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia, the program was created in February and is particularly successful at Einstein’s Prime Health practice in Northeast Philadelphia, whose population is heavily Russian and Ukrainian.
“English-speaking patients can read literature, but they still have a really difficult time to navigate through the resources available to help them,” noted Dr. Ellen Zagrebelsky, “but for Russian-speaking patients … they have really deep problems to learn about resources available and to get some help when they need it.”
Patient Care Coordinator Lora Bederman works to solve those problems.
She helps schedule appointments, bills assistance and any other kind of help patients need after they see the doctor at the geriatric practice on Bustleton Avenue.
“Any home care services, adult day care programs, Meals on Wheels, and so forth,” Bederman said. “We try to keep our population at home as long as possible. … Anything they need, I go out to their homes and I assist them with.”
They serve roughly 250 homebound patients, Zagrebelsky noted. When the grant became a possibility, geriatrician and divisional chief Dr. Andrew Rosenzweig began brainstorming.
“As soon as we learned that there’s money available, he started to come with ideas of how can we use [it], what kind of program can we create?” Zagrebelsky said. And with the help of their practice manager and others, they worked to create the program.
“We know the needs of our patients, and this is why we used all this money available to benefit all our patients,” she said.
Bederman specifically works with those needs — especially logistical issues the patients may face.
“All our patients are involved in the program; almost all of them need some kind of help,” Zagrebelsky said. “If they already have home services and transportation, they need help to arrange appointments and to schedule that somebody would be able to come with them.”
“Due to the success,” Bederman added, “we’re able to grow, we’re able to see more patients. [Zagrebelsky] sends patients my way and I help out, so this helps [her] see much more patients and also we’re able to bring new patients into the practice.”
For them, being able to serve this population better has personal ties.
Zagrebelsky moved to the area with her husband, mother-in-law and two daughters from Kiev 25 years ago, nodding to help she received from Jewish Family and Children’s Service.
She and her husband both had fellowships with Einstein, leading to the long commitment to the health care network she has today. One of her daughters worked there, too, before moving to work at Jefferson.
Her other daughter said there were too many doctors in the family and she decided to be a lawyer, Zagrebelsky laughed.
In her personal experience, working in this field has showed her that America treats its elderly better than other countries.
“I joke always that when this program ends I will retire because I will not work in any other conditions,” she said with a laugh, “because I really think this is what we need, and all patients deserve to have complete care, not just medical care but have all of their needs met.”
Bederman also moved from Kiev to the states when she was 9 years old. While she noted she didn’t have the assets to become a doctor like Zagrebelsky, she was committed to working in the field and went to school for science and health care.
“I promised myself when I was a little child because my grandmother was paralyzed for seven years, and there was not enough assets in Kiev, unfortunately, such as wheelchairs, commodes and so on,” she noted. “I promised myself I will always help people in need and I love what I do. I come to work with a smile on my face every day and I feel very happy and lucky to be a part of this practice.”
For them, being able to communicate with their patients and work with them to get them care has been rewarding.
“This help came in such a timely manner. Everything clicked in one place at the right time because we thought we need that kind of help but we just did not have any resources,” Zagrebelsky said. “We became more popular in the Russian-Jewish population because people talk to each other and they express great satisfaction with the care they get in our practice, which is really, really nice to hear.
“So we have happier patients — and the doctor is happy,” she added, “because I see my patients getting the best possible care, and this is our goal.”
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