Help for Russian-Speaking Patients in the Northeast
Imagine you’re a senior citizen. For many of the elderly, navigating the healthcare system and related social services can be challenging.
Now imagine you speak only Russian. And not only is the language different, but so is the culture. How do you accomplish a task as basic as making a doctor’s appointment?
Einstein Healthcare Network’s Division of Geriatric Medicine has the answer: the Russian Patient Care Coordination Program, based at Prime Health physician practice on Bustleton Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia. Northeast Philly is home to a very large population of Russian-speaking emigres.
Andrew Rosenzweig, MD, Einstein’s Division Chief for Geriatrics, says the new program solves many problems for Russian patients.
Until the program began, Russian patients relied heavily on Prime Health physician Ellen Zagrebelsky, MD, herself a Russian speaker. Dr. Zagrebelsky was a cardiologist in Russia, but needed to start her training over when she arrived in the States. She did her residency at Einstein.
A Perfect Fit
Before the program, patients would call Dr. Zagrebelsky for help, which often led to a logjam. Dr. Rosenzweig says she would tell patients, “’Come on over and let me check it out.’ She could be double-booked from 8 to 5, but if someone had something going on, they’d either just walk in, or she’d tell them, ‘Get over here.’”
Then, back in March, Dr. Rosenzweig heard about a grant from The Bernard and Etta Weinberg Family Fund, in conjunction with the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.
“Clearly our Prime Health office was a perfect fit for that program,” he says. “And so we knew there was a grant out there, and then we needed to come up with an idea and it was pretty easy to say: I know what we need.”
Dr. Rosenzweig identified the need for a patient care coordinator who could help Russian-speaking patients “navigate the healthcare system, help them utilize Einstein resources that we knew were available to them, improve their satisfaction and reduce their stress, and also identify home and community resources to allow them to thrive at home.”
And that person needed to be fluent in Russian.
Replicating a Successful Approach
Einstein has a social worker, Loretta Dugan, LSW, employed in the Geriatrics Division full-time. She helps patients identify resources in the community that help them obtain basic social services such as getting transportation, identifying potential hazards during home visits and dealing with utilities to keep the lights on, as well as health-related issues like getting medical equipment and understanding medical bills.
“What we did,” says Dr. Rosenzweig, “was replicate this approach in the Northeast. We were fortunate enough to have found Lora Bederman, a Russian-speaking Einstein employee with tons of healthcare experience, who just hopped in and took this opportunity and ran with it beyond our wildest expectations.”
As a result, Dr. Zagrebelsky and nurse practitioner Rachel Gold are now freed up to see more of those patients—and patients have a better experience.
For Bederman, who was born in Ukraine and came to the States at age 9, the role fulfills a longstanding ambition.
As a child in Ukraine, Bederman recalls, she witnessed the suffering of her grandmother, who was paralyzed for seven years. Her memory of that time is part of what motivates her to do whatever she can to make life easier for the practice’s patients, virtually all of whom speak Russian.
Wide-Ranging Questions and Concerns
“Because of the severe conditions in which we lived in Ukraine, my grandmother didn’t have anything like a wheelchair, a commode, and other medical supplies,” Bederman says. “I promised myself that one day I would go into the healthcare industry, and I would do everything in order to help people so they wouldn’t have to go through the same stress my grandmother went through.”
On the average day, Bederman generally sees more than a dozen patients. After they see Dr. Zagrebelsky, they walk right down the hall and into Bederman’s office. “I help them schedule everything that needs to be scheduled. I advise them of the resources available, and then, after I’m done and they’re finished, they go and schedule their follow-up appointment.”
Bederman also visits patients in their homes.
The questions and concerns Bederman tackles are wide-ranging. They include transportation, adult day care services, home care services, Meals on Wheels, medical supplies, scheduling medical appointments, pre-authorizations for pharmacies, and bills.
“It’s a huge, huge thing when patients get bills and they don’t know what to do with them,” she says.
Bederman finds the work gratifying.
“I love it,” she says. “This is my specialty. I love helping patients. I love helping people, and there is nothing that I would want more than to go home knowing and being satisfied with the fact that I was able to relieve their stress. They are very grateful, and so am I.”
To make an appointment, call: 267-672-2281.
Prime Health is located at 9892 Bustleton Avenue in Northeast Philadelphia.