Category: Uncategorized

Hand-Up for Health Program: Making a Difference Outside the Exam Room

At Unity Care NW, we are deeply committed to providing comprehensive and compassionate healthcare to all our patients, regardless of their circumstances. Over the past 3 years, we’ve had the privilege of witnessing the profound impact of our Hand-Up for Health Program, which has allowed us to extend our support beyond traditional healthcare services to address the diverse needs of our patients. Sometimes there are items or short-term services that our patients need but insurance is unable to cover, and our patients are unable to afford.

The generosity of our donors has enabled us to assist individuals and families facing challenging situations. As we reflect on 2023, we are grateful for the opportunity to share just a few of the memorable ways in which these funds were utilized to make a difference in the lives of those we serve…

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The successes of this program would not be possible without the generous contributions of our donors and supporters, whose commitment to our mission fuels our efforts to make a positive impact in our community. Click the button below to donate to the Hand-Up for Health Program, and provide compassion, dignity, and hope to a neighbor in need.

Puget Sound Energy – A Powerful Partner

Young woman waits in line with a group of classmates during graduation ceremony. She looks at camera with a big smile as she wears a black cap and gown.

One of PSE’s Powerful Partners for 2024 is Communities in Schools (CIS) Whatcom-Skagit who work combating dropout rates in Washington State

 

From the era of gas lights to pioneering wind power projects, Puget Sound Energy (PSE) has a rich history and deep roots in the Pacific Northwest. In addition to providing services to 1.1 million electric customers and over 900,000 natural gas customers in 10 counties, they are committed to collaborating with local groups to create stronger more equitable communities for all. Central to this work is their Powerful Partnership Program.

The goal of these grants is to develop strong community partnerships with organizations that share a passion for energy sustainability. This year, PSE is distributing $150,000 across 12 organizations. Since the inception of the Powerful Partnership Program in 2016, PSE has partnered with 92 organizations across the counties they serve, donating a total of $980,000 to date. The program collaborates with organizations striving to achieve their sustainability objectives while making meaningful contributions to their communities, particularly nonprofits across their service area dedicated to uplifting vulnerable populations. Through efforts to decrease energy consumption and promote cleaner energy options for small businesses and residential customers, they ensure ongoing support for those in need within their social circles. See the full list of this year’s grantees here.

Puget Sound Energy Logo

One of PSE’s Powerful Partners this year is Communities in Schools (CIS) Whatcom-Skagit. Each day, CIS’ team works to guide students back on track, combating the dropout rates in Washington State. Their impact extends beyond academics; it reaches into the very fabric of health and well-being. Research shows the critical link between education and health. Those who do not graduate high school face a disproportionate risk of chronic health conditions, according to Healthy People 2023. From asthma to heart disease, the consequences of dropping out reverberate far beyond the classroom, affecting individuals’ overall well-being.

PSE embodies a commitment to equitable access and community empowerment through a variety of projects and programs throughout the areas they serve. They are one of Unity Care NW’s top 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.

Lisa Nelson: Championing Access to Affordable Healthcare

Blonde woman in yellow sweater smiles at the camera for a professional headshot.Growing up in Hoquiam, Lisa Nelson witnessed firsthand the struggles of her parents to navigate a healthcare system that seemed designed against them. Her mother’s battle with health issues, exacerbated by the lack of affordable care options, left an indelible mark on Lisa’s life.

“I saw my mom suffer unnecessarily because of lack of health care and how that impacted her. She didn’t have an option, she had to work no matter how sick she was,” Lisa recalls.

Driven by this experience, Lisa pursued a career in pharmacy, earning her Doctor of Pharmacy from Washington State University. However, it was her transition into community health that ignited her passion for advocacy and brought her closer to effecting real change in the lives of underserved communities.

“Working in Community Health Centers, we can solve these problems, so people have access regardless of their ability to pay,” Lisa affirms.

As Chief Pharmacy Officer at Unity Care NW, Lisa recognizes the pivotal role that affordable medication plays in ensuring comprehensive healthcare. She became deeply involved in initiatives like the 340B program, which helps low-income and other vulnerable patients access more affordable medicines, leveraging it to bridge the gap between medical care and financial constraints.

“Specifically with the pharmacy and 340B, it’s a mechanism that we at the Community Health Center can utilize to make an impact on affordable medications. Because for many people, maybe they can afford to go to the doctor, but they can’t afford their prescriptions,” Lisa explains.

“With community health centers we can have a pharmacy that, instead of saying no to these patients, can say yes so at the end of the day you walk away with your medication, and you get the health outcomes you deserve,” Lisa says.

Driven by her belief in equity and fairness, Lisa is committed to streamlining processes to ensure that everyone receives the care they need without bureaucratic hurdles.

“I’m such an advocate for treating everyone the same. I want to make a system where everyone can get everything they need and if cost is an issue, we’ll figure that out without you having to fill out 14 pages of forms,” Lisa asserts.

This advocacy extends beyond the walls of Unity Care NW. As a nationally recognized expert on 340B, Lisa works with colleagues and law makers across the country to fight for fair drug pricing. She remains actively involved in various organizations, serving in leadership roles on committees and councils, engaging law makers, strategizing with other community health centers, and drafting model legislation aimed at advancing pharmacy practices and healthcare policies.

Lisa’s tireless efforts and dedication have not gone unnoticed. The National Association of Community Health Centers (NACHC) recently honored her with the Elizabeth K. Cooke Advocacy MVP Award during their 2024 Policy and Issues Forum in Washington, D.C. This prestigious award recognizes Lisa’s exceptional advocacy work and her unwavering commitment to expanding access to affordable healthcare.

Lisa Nelson’s journey from witnessing her mother’s struggles to becoming a stalwart advocate for healthcare equity exemplifies the transformative power of personal experience and unwavering dedication. Her story is echoed across the experiences of many health care advocates in the community health center movement across America. As she continues to champion accessible healthcare, her impact reverberates far beyond the confines of Washington State, resonating with communities across the nation in their pursuit of health and well-being for all.

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. Nonopioids treatments are recommended for first line treatment of most origins of chronic pain. Opioids should be used only when other options fail or conflict with other medical conditions or treatments.

If You Are Prescribed Opioids for Chronic 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/Naloxone

Carrying and knowing how to use Narcan (also known as Naloxone) can help you save someone from an opioid overdose. Narcan 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).

To assist a person with an expected opioid overdose:

  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

A prescription is not needed to obtain 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 scohen@co.whatcom.wa.us 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 UCNWA person in a pastel sweater drops a prescription bottle into a large secure metal blue bin witha sign reading "Safely dispose of unwanted or unused medicines."

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.

 

Sources

[1] https://www.whatcomcounty.us/4022/Narcan-Leave-Behind-Program

[2] The Opioid Crisis in Washington’s Second Congressional District and a Comprehensive Solution. January 2024. Rick Larsen. https://larsen.house.gov/uploadedfiles/rick_larsen_district_opioid_report_final.pdf

[3]  https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/patients/therapy-expectations.html

[4]https://www.cdc.gov/opioids/naloxone/factsheets/pdf/Naloxone_FactSheet_Family_and_Caregivers_How_and_When_to_use_Naloxone.pdf

You are Part of a Movement!

Advocates at the National Association of Community Health Center Policy and Issues Forum. Courtesy of NACHC. Washington D.C., 1977

Advocates at the National Association of Community Health Center Policy and Issues Forum. Courtesy of NACHC. Washington D.C., 1977

More than 40 years ago, Unity Care NW began treating people without access to health care and today we are proud to be one of over 1,400 Federally Qualified Health Centers serving nearly 1 in 10 Americans.

Community Health Centers were born out of the fight for civil rights and the war on poverty in the 1960s. These new health care providers empowered local communities through patient-majority governing boards, using a combination of local resources and federal funding. The National Association of Community Health Centers was later founded and played a crucial role in unifying and advocating for accessible, quality health care.

Our state and federal governments make important decisions that impact your care on a regular basis. Unity Care NW monitors legislation and advocates with our elected officials on behalf of your care but we need your help. As a patient, your voice matters! Sign up for our advocacy mailing list and play an active role in shaping healthcare policies. Receive important action alerts and make your self heard by our elected officials. Together, we can create positive change and ensure better healthcare outcomes for all.

2024 Health Care Legislation Digest

State Budget Allocations

The Washington State House of Representatives unanimously approved a $1.33 billion supplemental capital budget for 2024 that includes significant investments in the health of Washington residents including $82.7 million to build behavioral health care facilities and $127 million in funding for affordable housing. Thank you to everyone who called or wrote to state lawmakers! There were significant investments advancing health care access for everyone in this years budget thanks to outreach from Community Health Center staff and supporters.


Increase Investment in Health Coverage for Undocumented Individuals

$28.4 million was allocated by the state legislature for administrative support and expansion of the Medicaid lookalike for uninsured adults at or below 138% of the federal poverty level, regardless of immigration status. This investment demonstrates positive forward momentum, as well as the Legislature’s commitment to coverage for undocumented individuals. However, the total investments in this program ($49.5 million in 2023 and $28.4 million in 2024) are still insufficient to provide coverage for all the individuals the state estimates would be eligible for this program.

Expand School-Based Health Programs and Services

$500 thousand was allocated in the budget to increase funding to expand the Department of Health’s school-based health center program through five grants of $100 thousand each. $2 million was invested in capital funding for eight school-based health capital projects, including six community health center projects.

Continue Capital Investments in Community Dental Clinics

$452 thousand was unvested in capital funding for new and expanded oral health facilities at three community health centers: CHAS Health, Moses Lake Community Health Center, Community Health Center of Snohomish.

340B Progress

New Law Regulating Pharmacy Benefit Managers

WA SB 5213, concerning pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs) was signed into law by Governor Inslee. This bill is a great starting point for addressing issues with PBMs, outsized influence on drug costing and access for our patients by:

  • Increasing the ability of the Office of Insurance Commissioner to provide oversight of PBMs
  • Protecting pharmacies from negative reimbursements that pay pharmacies less than the cost of a drug after it’s been dispensed to a patient
  • Protecting independent and non-profit pharmacies from being paid less than corporate pharmacies
  • Prohibiting PBMs from:
    • Knowingly misleading pharmacies by requiring more of independent and non-profit pharmacies than they do of corporate pharmacies.
    • Reimbursing any pharmacy less than a pharmacy the PBM is affiliated with.
    • Retroactively deny payment for a drug. Fees, days allowance, same treatment between mail and in-house. Reduces waste by confirming with the patient they want refills.

“This bill was a great first step towards protecting patients in Washington from the abusive practices of many Pharmacy Benefits Managers,” said UCNW Chief Pharmacy Officer, Lisa Nelson. It should help prevent pharmacy deserts in neighborhoods across the state and will help Unity Care NW’s patients by requiring PBMs to allow us to deliver or mail a prescription and allow patients whose mail in drugs are late or damaged to have replacement drugs covered at a network pharmacy so patients care isn’t interrupted.

The bill contains language about mail order pharmacies requiring affirmative authorization before filling and shipping medication to patients which is important to reduce unnecessary prescription drug spend.  Here is a link to a slide deck from National Community Pharmacy Association that is at least a decade old detailing mail-order waste (all the dollar values listed on the slides are much, much higher today): PowerPoint Presentation (ncpa.co)

Sustain 340B Act

In February, the bipartisan Senate 340B Working Group released the SUSTAIN 340B Act Discussion Draft and a Request for Information (RFI) from stakeholders including Community Health Centers. The discussion draft is another step in the right direction to introducing bipartisan legislation that will stabilize the 340B program and protect the health care safety net. Advocacy in coalition with NACHC and other organizations has been instrumental in opening this space for engagement with Congress about the best ways to protect and improve the 340B program. UCNW signed-on in support of NACHC’s RFI response letter to provide feedback to help shape the final legislation.

 

On the Ballot in November

Initiatives to be aware of in November I-2109: prohibiting taxes on capital gains income and I-2117: repealing the carbon tax credit trading, known as “Cap and Trade.” If passed, either initiative would significantly reduce state revenue from taxes on the sale of property and investments and on carbon polluting businesses. Removing these revenues would limit possible funding for Community Health Centers and our priorities, and could lead to serious negative impacts on our patients.

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!

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.