The clients at our Aletha R. Wright “Vision of Hope” Center have a lot to think about – finding employment, obtaining identification, meeting their case management goals and their path to permanent housing. Their physical health can often be an afterthought, or considered not as important as taking the next steps toward independent living. D’Yani Kelly, the facility’s Community Health Worker, and Nichole Phillips, the Certified Peer Recovery Specialist, are there to make sure that is not the case.
Ms. Kelly describes her main responsibility as assisting any client that comes to Aletha Wright with any type of medical need. Whether it is getting a diabetic a glucose meter, or assisting a client obtain health insurance, Ms. Kelly is there to make sure the men at Aletha Wright are on top of their health – a position that is supported by a grant from the Horizon Foundation for New Jersey. Some of her other tasks include arranging transportation to follow up appointments, picking up prescriptions, connecting clients to pharmacies and much more.
“I want to get the clients acclimated to and comfortable with medical care while they are in the facility so once they leave, they are on good footing and know the processes of things like follow up appointments and prescription medications,” Ms. Kelly said. “These are things that they may not have had the ability to focus on during their homelessness or whatever they were going through.”
While Ms. Kelly is focused on the overall health of the men, sometimes clients have substance use disorders that require specialized treatment. That is where Ms. Phillips, of Maryville Addiction Treatment Center, comes in. Due to a formal partnership between organizations, Ms. Phillips is present at Aletha Wright full-time to meet with clients and assist with treatment plans of individuals that are currently or previously struggling with substance use. Her role can range from getting a client into a residential detox program to referrals to outpatient treatment or even setting up telehealth treatment for clients with employment during the day.
“Having a Certified Peer Recovery Specialist at Aletha Wright full-time is beneficial to the clients because they know I am accessible – I’m here, I’m present, I build relationships with them,” she said. “There’s also the benefit of if a client needs it, I can call on the spot and get them into treatment. But mostly, day-to-day people go through different things and I think knowing that I’m here to talk to them helps them feel more comfortable.”
There is no question that Ms. Kelly and Ms. Phillips’s work at Aletha Wright is extremely valuable – knowing how to be responsible for their own health, and/or receiving substance use treatment can be a game changer in the facility’s men making progress toward reaching their goals.
“I want to keep the importance of health in the forefront for these gentlemen and have been coming up with workshops and speakers to do that,” said Ms. Kelly. “My opinion is to surround them with this information, but mostly just make sure they know I care. Some of these guys just want to know someone cares.”
Ms. Kelly and Ms. Phillips share this belief and work together to discuss what they are seeing in their clients, share warning signs and provide referrals to each other. For example, if Ms. Kelly learns of a history of substance use disorder in her intake with a client, she’ll make it one of the client’s goals to meet with Ms. Phillips. They communicate to make sure they have as much information as possible to make sure the clients are getting the best care possible. The wellbeing of their clients is top priority, and while managing their healthcare is significant, both women understand that it is not just physical.
“Having compassion for people is the most important part of this job – you have to care about the clients beyond 9-5,” said Ms. Kelly. “I have a gentleman that was in a diabetic crisis when I met him. Now, just from talking to him and getting to know him, I’ve noticed certain “tells” about when his sugar is high and we need to do something about it. That’s what these men need – someone who cares beyond doing the paperwork. I get a joy out of it and it’s given me a renewed purpose. My main goal here is to not let these guys down.”