When asked to dream about her future five years from now, Tiffany of Milwaukee smiles. “I see myself in my own home with the kids playing in the backyard, while I read a book in my hammock.”

Just two years ago Tiffany went to the emergency room with severe abdominal pain and alcohol addiction. The doctor warned her that unless she changed her life and got healthy, she may not live for five more years.

At the time, Tiffany relied on the emergency room as her only access to health care.

“I never thought about finding a doctor,” says Tiffany. “I never thought anything was seriously wrong with me, so I just felt more comfortable going to the emergency room.”

Every year in Milwaukee County nearly half of visits to emergency departments are for non-emergencies. Many people visiting the ER lack a primary-care provider and may not know how to navigate the complex health care delivery system. 

The Milwaukee Health Care Partnership, in collaboration with United Way, has made care coordination for patients like Tiffany a priority.  For example, the Partnership, through its Emergency Department Care Coordination initiative, works to connect low-income individuals to primary care and help them navigate all the other health care and social service needed for better health and wellness. 

Through Aurora Sinai Medical Center’s emergency department, Tiffany was introduced to Family Support Specialist Vincent Withers, who spoke with Tiffany about her health concerns and began to put together a tailored care coordination plan.  

The first thing Vincent did was to help Tiffany review her health insurance options and identify care providers that could meet her needs.

Next, Vincent connected Tiffany with several medical specialists, including an obstetrician and a gastroenterologist, who diagnosed Tiffany with chronic pancreatitis and created a plan to help her manage it.

“It was such a relief to finally find out why I had this pain,” says Tiffany.

During the first visit with her new OB provider, Tiffany found out she was pregnant with her daughter, Tyra.

Because her pregnancy was high risk, Tiffany was carefully monitored by her new OB provider, who was part of the team of care providers and community resources that helped Tiffany’s health get back on track. “I would even have a provider sit with me in the waiting room,” says Tiffany. “My doctors are really, really good with me. I always felt supported.”

Of those that participated in United Way-funded health care access programs, 98% felt they received the education they needed in making decisions about their health.

“Navigating the health care delivery system can be difficult regardless of your socio-economic status and health needs,” says Travis Andersen, Board Chair of the Milwaukee Health Care Partnership. “Your contributions to United Way’s Health Improvement Fund help extend care coordination services in the community, so that folks who need it most can get the right care in the right place at the right time.”

In January of 2016, Tiffany gave birth to a healthy baby girl and now has regular appointments with her primary care doctor, who helps her manage her chronic conditions. In addition, Vincent connected Tiffany with resources to enter an outpatient rehab program and overcome her addiction to alcohol.

Today, Tiffany tries to be a good influence on her friends and family by encouraging them to find a primary care health home, instead of relying on the emergency room. Her daughters also see a pediatrician on a regular basis.

“The relationship-building we do with patients like Tiffany creates a pattern within families that shifts the idea of how to manage one’s healthcare,” says Vincent. “Tiffany now knows how to access the resources she needs and can share that knowledge with others.”

Tiffany has been sober for two years, and feels that her chronic pain is being managed effectively. Now, Tiffany can focus on being there for her children.

“My life is better now. I’m healthier…I feel good,” says Tiffany. “I’ve got all this energy to be with my kids. We love to go to the park and be active. In my old life, I couldn’t do that.”

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© 2021 United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County is a 501(C)(3) Nonprofit registered in the US under EIN: 39-0806190.