By Melissa Dunford, RN, Aledade Practice Transformation Specialist
Growing up in the Appalachian Culture of rural southwest Virginia was challenging, but until I began working with Aledade, I did not realize that my community and circumstances were unique. As a child, I did not aspire to be a nurse. I presumed I would follow the same path as my mom. She worked as a seamstress in our local sewing factories, which were essentially sweatshops. She did not graduate from high school, she was widowed at an early age and she had two children to raise. We knew we were poor but we couldn’t escape the circumstances because it was all we knew.
Survival was hard work, ingenuity, and poverty “smarts”. We knew how to stretch a meager income, grow our own food, and treat ailments, injuries, and illness naturally. Our house was always in need of repairs. A leaky roof with buckets and pots strategically stationed to catch the water, no air conditioning and only a wood stove for heat. Our clothes were hand me downs therefore I never was stylish in the 70s and 80s designs. We didn’t have an indoor bathroom until I was 16, I never had my hair cut in a salon, rarely did I even get to go inside a grocery store, and the nearest mall or shopping centers were, in my mind, lightyears away, although it was a mere 35 miles. Our car was lucky to make it 5 miles before it puttered out or we didn’t have money for gas. This is what I knew, who I was and, to me, everything was normal in this environment.
The Appalachian Culture is difficult to leave because of the deep sense of place and pride. I was fortunate to have a mother who emphasized education. Without my education, I may have remained poverty stricken. Thankfully, I was led to a career in nursing through a choice I made to attend the high school vocational-technical school. Once I started nursing, I couldn’t stop. I started as a licensed practical nurse and eventually became a master’s prepared registered nurse.
I began my nursing career in 1988. Since then, I have seen incredible changes in health care. In those 30 years, I have worked in hospitals, home health, school nursing, community health, management and quality/patient safety. In November 2015, I stepped out of my box and accepted a Practice Transformation Specialist position with Aledade. Initially after joining the Aledade team, I felt intimidated by the “city folk”, the city, and the impressive educational and career backgrounds of our team. I thought, what does this country girl from southwest Virginia have to offer? As I soon found out, Aledade impacts the health care of my community and I play an integral role.
I always remember my mom telling me “you don’t go to the doctor unless it’s broke or you’re dying”. This mindset was driven by the lack of health insurance with the lack of adequate finances, poor health literacy, and a health care system built on the premise of reactive instead of proactive care. The history of medical care was based on treating illness and injury and lacked public health maintenance. It wasn’t until 2002 that the Institute of Medicine issued a report entitled “Who Will Keep the Public Healthy?” which concluded that public health professionals must develop a plan that identifies the impact of multiple determinates affecting health and address health for the 21st century.
Amazingly, it was just a few short years ago that we realized the need to change health care to improve the health of our people through prevention. Aledade wants to change health care across the nation and we are making a huge impact by working with our primary care providers to help them gain control of the health of their patients. Our team at Aledade HQ provides me data to help the providers in my community identify patients who have health risks and proactively address ways to prevent disease or injury. Aledade’s cutting edge technology gives providers insight to the patient’s medical care from all care transitions and sources including specialists, pharmacies, and hospitals. We also help them navigate end of life for patients who need quality instead of quantity of life planning.
I lost my mom suddenly 4 years ago. She was a smoker and had uncontrolled hypertension. She died unexpectedly of a massive heart attack at the age of 63. As I look back on her medical care now, I think about what I would have given for her provider to have been working with Aledade. Aledade would have worked with her doctor’s practice to implement Annual Wellness Visits to determine her risk factors and addressed smoking cessation, exercise, EKGs, diet and cholesterol control. Her provider would have been able to see, in the pharmacy data that Aledade provides, that she was not getting her blood pressure medicine filled consistently. Her hospitalizations for accelerated hypertension would have been evaluated through transitional care visits and a chronic care manager would have helped her if she couldn’t afford her medication but didn’t want to tell people because of her pride. This provider would have been equipped to proactively address her impending heart attack by educating her on the symptoms of a myocardial infarction. She would have known that the left arm pain she was having was not from overuse of carrying in wood to keep her fire going. If Aledade could have been there sooner, my mom could potentially still be here enjoying her grandson’s ballgames and watching him grow.
This is why I work for Aledade. I am part of a shift in health care delivery in our nation but most importantly, I can personally impact my community and my family. My mom always gave me this advice….”an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” She was so right.