‘People are never a number here’: Donna Bernier personifies patient-centered care
By: Karen Dandurant
If you ask Donna Bernier, RMA, what she does for work at Greater Seacoast Community Health, it might take a while for her to explain.
Bernier, who has been with Goodwin Community Health since 2001, has taken on so many roles, even she is hard-pressed to put a number on exactly how many jobs she does in a day. She modestly noted she loves being busy.
“I started here in 2001, as a medical assistant,” she said. “I would see patients to their rooms, arrange lab work and do some case management.”
One of her current roles is to coordinate the breast and cervical cancer program.
“We host the site for Goodwin and Families First,” she said. “But people do not have to be one of our patients to be a part of the program. Right now, we have 63 enrolled from Goodwin and 44 from Families First. Places like Harbour Women’s Health sometimes refer women to us. People who haven’t seen a provider before and who have Medicare Part A qualify for our program. The state can refer patients. This program saves lives.”
Because Greater Seacoast Community Health has midwives on staff who are trained to do palpation breast exams to screen patients, Bernier said they can often see a person who needs to be seen earlier than other facilities.
“They can often call on Friday, and I can have them seen by Tuesday,” she said. “When a woman finds a lump, they should not need to wait long to be seen.”
Once a person becomes a patient, the next thing Bernier does is coordinate their care and their medications, because she also coordinates that program. She said she has managed to get down what was once a 40 hours per week position to eight hours a week.
“The person prior to me seemed to really like paperwork,” she said. “When I took over the role, there was no real system. There is now.”
Bernier said she takes each patient’s medications on a one-to-one basis.
“I go through everything they are using,” she said. “A lot of time people are unaware that there are other programs they will qualify for. I go ‘grocery shopping’ to find them everything they are entitled to. Some people are on a lot of medications. I reorganize them, review their medical charts, and often I can put in the right insurance to get them from a generic prescription to a brand name. I can get some patients a three-month supply so they can fill prescriptions less. I tell them to call me when they open their last bottle, so I can be ready to assure they have what they need.”
Coreen Toussaint, RN, clinical manager at Goodwin Community Health, says Donna uses the breast and cervical cancer program as a springboard to meet other health needs for the uninsured women in the program.
“Donna makes all kinds of connections,” said Toussaint. “She is always thinking big picture: ‘What else can I do for them?’ For example, because all the women in the BCCP program are uninsured, Donna often helps them enroll in a program to get free medications through the pharmaceutical companies. Some of these women were not filling their prescriptions because they could not afford to, so this is huge for them.”
“She has also connected women with the Wise Woman program to improve cardiovascular health and is working on improving our diabetes education and arthritis services,” Toussaint said.
“Donna doesn’t have to do these things to fulfill the requirements of the BCCP program or her own job requirements. She does this because she enjoys taking that extra step. She is so well-organized and diligent about forging relationships with all these other community programs because she is passionate about wanting to make things happen for patients.”
Bernier coordinates programs for patients with diabetes.
“I assure continuity,” she said. “It’s my job to see they follow up with their diabetes care and help with hypertension and the many physical aspects of the disease. I help them track their AIC, watch their blood sugars. We work to level them out and get them to a better place for managing their condition. If a person is not compliant, there is always a reason. I look to find out what that is.”
Bernier helps coordinate educational programs to help people with diabetes learn the best way to manage their condition. She said they have a diabetes educator on staff who works with her and the nursing staff.
If that wasn’t enough, Bernier is the chronic disease coordinator, a position she helped create. In that role, she works with patients who have conditions that will likely be lifelong, like diabetes and asthma.
“We need to look at patients who have a chronic disease and not look at just the disease,” she said. “It can be easy to lose sight of that. I look at what they are going through. Are they eating right? Are they skipping medication doses? Each person is unique and has their own challenges. I look to see what I can do to remove their barriers to good health.”
Bernier helps facilitate wellness programs, including teen talks.
“We talk about bullying, about not getting into cars when it’s unsafe,” she said. “I think if they learn something, the program has done its job.”
Bernier said she started the area’s school-based flu clinics, another wellness effort.
Bernier sits on Greater Seacoast Community Health’s quality improvement committee.
“We look at the metrics for all the programs,” she said. “We audit the charts and make sure the documentation, so important, is done correctly.”
Shannon Gillan, RN, manager of quality improvement and quality assurance at Greater Seacoast Community Health said ““Donna is an amazing asset to our team and the patients we serve. She goes above and beyond her BCCP responsibilities to assist the patient with anything and everything they may need, truly utilizing the meaning of Patient-Centered Medical Home. She takes true pride in her work and it shows.”
Does she ever feel overwhelmed?
“Nope,” she said. “Obviously, some days are harder than others, but I love my job. I love the patient contact. I love looking through the charts because they tell me stories and I learn about my patients. Someone can come in and when I ask how they are doing, they say fine. Sometimes, I know that’s not true and I will reach out. They will tell me what is wrong because they know I care about them as a person. People are never a number here.”