Category: Uncategorized

During this American Heart Month, we Shine a Light on CHPW

A heart shaped bowl full of healthy food with a pair of turquoise tennis shoes and a set of turquoise weights set beside it.

Now that 2024 is well under way, this is a great time to revisit any healthy resolutions you made for the year because February is American Heart Month. Your heart is the strongest muscle in your body and there are many things you can do to keep it healthy. That’s why Community Health Plan of Washington (CHPW) provides support and resources to strengthen your heart and your health. In fact, they have a helpful Health Information Library available online for anyone. Check out their different tools and information for Heart and Circulation health in their online library. Find more health information on CHPW’s blog, CHPW Connections, where you can find suggestions for healthy choices, such as their article on Heart Health Tips: How Lowering Your Blood Pressure Can Help.

Community Health Plan of Washington (CHPW) has been providing health care to Washington families for more than 30 years. They are Washington’s first not-for-profit to serve Apple Health members. In 1992, Washington’s community and migrant health centers (CHCs), created CHPW to provide health insurance to people who were not being served by traditional insurance companies. From that beginning, they are governed by community organizations (Community Health Centers) like Unity Care NW which, in turn, are governed by community members. Today they remain a not-for-profit based in Washington providing health care for Washingtonians. HereCHPW Logo in Whatcom county, they offer Apple Health (Medicaid) and Medicare plans.

CHPW By the Numbers
CHPW is connected throughout Washington. The Community Health Plan of Washington network includes:

  • 21 Community Health Centers operating more than 190 clinics
  • More than 3,100 primary care providers
  • Nearly 15,000 medical specialists
  • Nearly 8,000 behavioral health specialists
  • Over 100 hospitals
  • More than 130 Affiliate Providers at 393 locations

They are also one of Unity Care NW’s Health Care Champion sponsors supporting our work to provide affordable whole
person health care to everyone. Thank you CHPW for everything you do to create stronger and healthier communities!

Opioid Addiction and Overdose Prevention


In our journey towards better health and well-being, managing chronic pain can often be a significant challenge. Whether it’s stemming from a medical condition, injury, or other factors, chronic pain can greatly impact our daily lives. At Unity Care NW, we understand the complexities of chronic pain management and the risks associated with opioid therapy. That’s why we’re committed to providing you with comprehensive support and information to empower you in your health journey.

Whatcom County Overdose facts

The opioid crisis has deeply impacted communities in Northwest Washington and across the United States. In 2022, Washington state experienced a significant increase in drug overdose deaths, with overdose deaths in Whatcom County surpassing the statewide average. The COVID-19 pandemic worsened the crisis by increasing factors like anxiety and social isolation, leading to more drug use and exacerbating the epidemic. Whatcom County Emergency Medical Services receives an average of 3 to 4 overdose calls per day.[1] It is crucial that the public be aware of what opioids are and how to prevent addiction and overdose in themselves and in their loved ones.

A chart showing Whatcom County opioid deaths exceeding the state average for the first time in 2022.                                                                                                                                                                                                                      [2]


What is an Opioid?
Natural, synthetic, or semi-synthetic chemicals that interact with opioid receptors on nerve cells in the body and brain, and reduce the intensity of pain signals and feelings of pain. This class of drugs includes the illegal drug heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, and pain medications available legally by prescription, such as oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and many others. Prescription opioids are generally safe when taken for a short time and as directed by a doctor, but because they produce euphoria in addition to pain relief, they can be misused and can lead to addiction.

Pain Management

Physical pain is a complex sensation that serves as a signal from the body to the brain, indicating injury or potential harm. It can manifest as aches, throbbing, sharp sensations, or discomfort in various parts of the body. While pain is a natural and often necessary response to protect ourselves from further injury, managing physical pain is an important part of promoting overall well-being and maintaining functional abilities. [3]

Pain management can be done in many ways that do not include opioids. Examples include:

  • Physical therapy
  • Exercise
  • Nonopioid medications, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) including UCNW’s Wellness Skills Group for Chronic Pain
  • Certain antidepressant and antiseizure medications

 Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is pain lasting three months or more.  It can be caused by a disease or condition, injury, medical treatment, inflammation, or even an unknown reason. There are many possible options to treat your chronic pain. You and your doctor should work together to establish treatment goals for pain and function in your daily life. Chronic pain can be managed with or without prescription opioids, but many of the nonopioid options have been shown to work better with fewer side effects.

If You Are Prescribed Opioids for Pain Management

  • Follow up with your doctor within the first few days of starting your prescription to ensure opioids are helping. You should also discuss:
    • What kind of pain relief and improvement you can expect overall. Opioids can reduce pain in the short-term but will not likely relieve all your pain.
    • Any side-effects you are experiencing.
  • Develop your personal pain management plan with your doctor which may include:
    • Your personal treatment goals, which describe what you may achieve as you make progress.
    • Information about treatment options.
    • Referral to specialists as needed.

Side Effects of Opioid Therapy

Prescription opioids carry serious risks of addiction and overdose. Opioids can slow a person’s breathing, often a sign associated with someone experiencing an opioid overdose that can cause death. The use of prescription opioids can have several side effects as well, even when taken as directed, including:

  • Tolerance — you might need to take more of a medication for the same pain relief
  • Physical dependence — you have symptoms of withdrawal when a medication is stopped, or you take less
  • Increased sensitivity to pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Constipation
  • Confusion
  • Depression
  • Sleepiness and dizziness

How to Spot an Opioid Overdose

Recognizing an opioid overdose can be difficult. If you aren’t sure, it is best to treat the situation like an overdose—you could save a life.

Signs of an overdose may include:

  • Small, constricted “pinpoint pupils”
  • Falling asleep or loss of consciousness
  • Slow, shallow breathing
  • Choking or gurgling sounds
  • Limp body
  • Pale, blue, or cold skin


Narcan (also known as Naloxone) saves lives because it can quickly restore normal breathing to a person whose breathing has slowed or stopped as a result of overdosing on prescription opioid medications, heroin, or drugs that are adulterated and contaminated with an opioid like fentanyl (e.g., cocaine, methamphetamine)

  1. Call 911.
  2. Give Narcan if possible.
  3. Try to keep the person awake and breathing.
  4. Lay the person on their side to prevent choking.
  5. Do not leave the person alone while waiting for help to arrive.
  6. Naloxone is a temporary treatment. More than one dose might be needed under some circumstances, especially if an overdose event involves illicitly manufactured fentanyl and fentanyl-related substances.[4]

Where to Get Narcan

Narcan is covered by many insurances and is available at pharmacies, including Unity Care NW’s in-house pharmacies in Bellingham and Ferndale. Speak to your pharmacist to see if your insurance covers Narcan.

Whatcom County provides Narcan to At-Risk individuals or family members, or involved bystanders of opioid related overdose through the Narcan Leave Behind Program.  Contact Steven Cohen, EMS Training Specialist, at 360-820-6157 or for information on Narcan Kits and training.

You can also request free Narcan to be delivered to your home online through the Washington State Naloxone Mail Order program.

Safe Medication Return at UCNW

If you have unused or expired medications, including opioids, we offer a safe medication return program to ensure they are disposed of properly. Bring any medications you have to drop boxes at our pharmacies in either Bellingham or Ferndale to safely dispose of them. By participating in this program, you’re not only protecting your loved ones from potential harm but also contributing to environmentally responsible practices.




[2] The Opioid Crisis in Washington’s Second Congressional District and a Comprehensive Solution. January 2024. Rick Larsen.



Whatcom Community Foundation Empowers Youth While Supporting Whatcom

Everyone here thrives. That’s Whatcom Community Foundation’s vision. Achieving it means lifting community voices, investing in equity, and cultivating neighborliness. Being one of our Unity Care NW Health Care Champions is just one of the many ways they are a supporting a stronger and healthier community.
Join the 2024 Youth Philanthropy Team. Learn abut local issues. Make grants to help.Like all the 1,000+ community foundations across North America, the Whatcom Community Foundation is a charitable organization created through gifts from people who care about a particular place. Anyone can contribute any amount of money to a community foundation, which pools and builds assets to meet local needs.

One way the Community Foundation is meeting its goals is by empowering the next generation of philanthropists. The Whatcom Community Foundation Youth Philanthropy Program (YPP) was created for students to engage in experiential based learning opportunities that foster leadership, technical and critical thinking skills. YPP connects youth to the community through charitable giving.

This year the team will focus on learning about youth homelessness and youth mental health challenges that often exacerbate youth homelessness in Whatcom County and across the country. Students will focus their time and effort on the powerful impact of grant award making, educating the community about the YPP program, learning leadership skills, and bringing in new members for 2025.

2023 Youth Philanthropy Project Team of 15 young people standing together.

2023 Youth Philanthropy Project Team

In 2024, the YPP team will distribute $50,000 in grants ranging between $2,500 and $5,000 to nonprofit organizations, schools, Native American Tribes, and government agencies that address and work with children and youth (up to age 24) of all races and ethnicities in Whatcom County experiencing mental health challenges and youth homelessness.  Priority will be given to programs that engage youth in program design/delivery. Do you know a youth that would be interested in participating? Click here for more information and to apply.

Thank you Whatcom Community Foundation – for the many ways you support Unity Care NW and our community.

Don’t Lose Your Apple Health Insurance! We can help.

During COVID, nearly everyone who qualified for Apple Health insurance (Medicaid) was able to receive benefits without submitting an annual renewal.

Beginning April 2023, the Health Care Authority (HCA) Apple Health members will again have to renew their coverage annually.  Read on to learn more about Apple Health renewal to ensure you maintain your coverage (if eligible) during Apple Health enrollment.

How to Know if You Have Apple Health Insurance

Apple Health is the name for Medicaid in Washington. WA Apple Health is free or low-cost health insurance coverage for those who qualify. Everyone who has an Apple Health plan will have a Blue ProviderOne card like the one shown to the right. In almost all cases, the management of care for people with Apple Health insurance is delegated to a Managed Care Organization (MCO). There are five MCOs under WA Apple Health. They are Amerigroup Washington, Community Health Plan of Washington, Coordinated Care of Washington, Molina Healthcare of Washington, and UnitedHealthcare Community Plan. Your Apple Health could be through any of these MCOs and you may have been provided an additional insurance card.

What Does This Mean for Apple Health Users and Why is it Important?

Everyone using Apple Health insurance must submit information to renew their coverage. Apple Health users can only continue their coverage if they complete the Washington Apple Health renewal process on time and still qualify for Apple Health insurance.

Patients who do not take timely action before their WA Apple Health renewal period ends will lose their Apple Health coverage.

What Do Apple Health Plan Members Need to Do?

Update your contact information with the Health Care Authority. Renewal information and important notices about Apple Health coverage will go to the address on file with the HCA. Make sure your contact information is correct and up to date! The first step of your WA Apple Health renewal is to login to the Washington Health Plan Finder website and confirm your contact information or report a change in address. More information on how to report a change can be found on the HCA website.

Watch for Apple Health renewal information – and take action! WA Apple Health renewal information will arrive in your mailbox the month before your renewal date. For example, patients with a renewal date in May will receive a renewal notice in April and must complete the process before their renewal date. Remember that people who do not complete the renewal process on time will lose their Apple Health Coverage.

What if I No Longer Quality for Apple Health Insurance?                                             New Bellingham Office LocationA map with an arrow pointing to the location of the front entrance at 1616 Cornwall where Outreach & Enrollment offices in suite 107 can be accessed.

Patients who no longer qualify for Apple Health insurance can find an affordable plan through the  Health Plan Finder. We also offer a Sliding Fee Discount Program which lowers the cost of any services you receive not covered by your insurance. Eligibility is based on household size and income and our Enrolment Specialists can help you apply.

Need Help with Your Apple Health Renewal or Finding a New Health Plan?

Unity Care NW Enrollment Specialists can provide help with your WA Apple Health renewal or assist you with finding a new health plan  at two convenient locations!

If you need assistance navigating the renewal process, or if you need help figuring out how to apply for Apple Health or assistance, schedule an appointment with one of our Enrollment Specialists in Bellingham or Ferndale. These health plan experts can walk you through the system and help you find the right plan for your specific needs.

To schedule an appointment for help with your WA Apple Health renewal or another health plan, please contact us at (360) 788-2669 and speak to one of our Enrollment Specialists or click the button below and fill out the form.

Request an Appointment!


It’s Time to Get Childhood Immunizations Back on Track

We’re all still in a pandemic recovery period and getting our lives back on schedule can be chaotic, from preventative healthcare to regular haircuts and beyond. For those with the next generation’s health in their hands, pediatric immunizations are especially important. Lately, many children have fallen behind on their vaccine schedules. Elisabeth Gehringer, D.O. and Associate Medical Director at Unity Care NW, recently sat down with WhatcomTalk to help encourage parents get back into the groove of their kids’ healthcare.

Why We Are Behind

“I’ve been seeing a pattern that kids have been falling behind on immunizations — the main challenge was related to the pandemic due to delay in care, and the result of those challenges was falling behind on their vaccine schedules,” says Dr. Gehringer. “Vaccines are a really important part of the well child check-ups that we have built into our visits.” Read the full article.

Unity Care NW Earns Gold Status for Advocacy Excellence

Unity Care NW (UCNW) is proud to announce that it has earned the Gold ACE status from the National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC). This is the highest level of recognition in the NACHC Advocacy Center of Excellence (ACE) Program, which supports and recognizes health centers that achieve specific measures of advocacy success and demonstrate an ongoing commitment to advocacy by making it an organizational priority.

UCNW is one of only three health centers in Washington to have achieved Gold ACE status. This is a testament to the hard work and dedication of our staff and leadership, who are committed to advocating for health equity and access to care for the patients we serve.

The ACE Program measures advocacy success in four areas:

  • Policy impact: The extent to which health centers have influenced policy changes that improve access to care for their patients.
  • Public awareness: The extent to which health centers have raised awareness of the importance of community health centers and the challenges they face.
  • Workforce development: The extent to which health centers have trained and supported staff to engage in advocacy.
  • Organizational capacity: The extent to which health centers have the infrastructure and resources to support advocacy efforts.

We are grateful to NACHC for this recognition of our advocacy efforts. We will continue to work hard to advocate for health equity and access to care for the patients we serve.

Quote from NACHC

“Earning Gold ACE status requires serious dedication and prioritization of advocacy at your health center. Your organization is now part of an elite group that serves as an example to other Community Health Centers striving to achieve advocacy excellence. The amount of effort and time needed to achieve this requires hardworking, engaged staff and supportive leadership—two pieces of the puzzle necessary for a successful and robust advocacy program—both of which you have demonstrated.”

How You Can Help

You can help UCNW continue its advocacy work by:

Thank you for your support!

Molina Healthcare– A Legacy of Giving Back

Physician listens to senior Caucasian woman's heartbeat with a stethoscope. The woman is smiling at the doctor.

Molina Healthcare was founded in 1980 by an emergency room physician with a mission to provide quality health care to those who needed it, no matter their circumstances. Molina is committed to community service and has established a vibrant corporate social responsibility initiative to support the communities they serve.

Today, Molina Healthcare of Washington serves over 1 million members through government sponsored programs Apple Health (Medicaid) and Medicare D-SNP across every county in the state, and health plans through the WA Health Benefit Exchange in most counties. In Washington’s North Sound region, Molina serves over 130k members, including nearly 40k members in Whatcom County. They collaborate with community partners to eliminate access barriers and tackle health disparities to improve the health and lives of their members and communities.

Molina LogoAs part of this commitment, Molina provides a variety of resources on their website to help everyone on their health journey, including articles on their blog focused on a variety of health topics. The categories range from resources for addiction, help for allergies, and information on immunizations. In addition, Molina Medicaid members can earn gift card incentives for completing their annual preventive care. The Company also participates in our Healthcare Champions Sponsorship program, supporting health care for everyone. Unity Care NW is thankful for their support and partnership to build stronger communities in Whatcom County and beyond.




Puget Sound Energy – Bringing Light and Support to Our Communities since 1873

A mother and child look at a yellow school bus with "Early Learning and Family Services" written on it.
From gas lights to wind power projects, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) has a rich history and deep roots in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to providing services to over 2 million residents in 10 counties, they are committed to partnering with local groups to create stronger more equitable communities for all.

Recently PSE provided a brand-new electric school bus to the Opportunity Council’s East Whatcom Regional Resource Center (EWRRC) for their East Whatcom County Mt. Baker Head Start program. The acquisition of this electric bus is part of PSE’s Up & Go Electric pilot program focused on equity in transportation electrification, one of PSE and the PSE Foundation’s many grants programs.

This bus, which PSE purchased from Blue Bird, comes with a dual-port level 2 charging station that PSE installed on the resource center property. The charging station will power the electric bus while the extra charging port will be available for other invited guests of the resource center.

PSE is working to advance the equitable adoption of transportation electrification in our region, and partnerships with community-based organizations enable them to build a robust EV network. They want to ensure that everyone, regardless of income and geographic location, can access the benefits of electric mobility.

PSE’s commitment to equitable access extends to a variety of projects and programs throughout the ten counties they serve. They are one of Unity Care NW’s Health Care Champion Sponsors, supporting our work to ensure everyone in our community has access to high-quality care even if they can’t afford it. Thank you, PSE, for your support and your efforts in so many communities across the Pacific Northwest.