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We Care Jacksonville and uninsured patients ‘rejoice’ at new lifesaver

Monday, April 29, 2019  
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We Care Jacksonville and uninsured patients ‘rejoice’ at new lifesaver

By: Beth Reese Cravey

https://www.jacksonville.com/news/20190417/we-care-jacksonville-and-uninsured-patients-rejoice-at-new-lifesaver?fbclid=IwAR1Ge-whHLHSmbc_rzHkclGZeBDwGZzD1NKPiL2WlLwAucrc8-WrVEUxpfw

Toni Peters called her fainting episodes “falling out.”

They stemmed from high blood pressure and embarrassed her, particularly when they occurred at her job as a part-time janitorial worker at Regency Square mall. She would be taken to an emergency room, which would embarrass her further because she had no insurance to pay the hospital or to go to a doctor for followups and prescriptions.

But during one of those hospital visits, she was told about We Care Jacksonville, a volunteer coalition of medical professionals that provides free care to the local uninsured population.

That’s how Peters, 62, met Rejoice Asomugha, 25, the nonprofit’s state-certified community health worker.

Since 2017, Asomugha has visited Peters weekly at her Mayport home, checking up on her health, inquiring about new symptoms and making sure she’s taking her medications and eating well. Peters came to count on — and trust — Asomugha, who has since helped her recover from a stroke, rushed her to the hospital when she had pneumonia, held her hand when she underwent tests for what turned out to be cervical cancer and will be there for her for upcoming cancer surgery.

But sometimes, their visits are just time between friends.

“Bless her heart ... She cares,” Peters said. “I would not be here if it wasn’t for her.”

Asomugha’s certified community health worker position started out three years ago as a pilot project of We Care’s Beaches Health and Wellness Initiative, which is led by Nurse Case Manager Tina Crooks, said Executive Director Susan King. But the pilot worked so well it has become permanent, a patient advocate position is being added and, if more funding can be obtained, will be expanded to other parts of the city, King said.

 “I often meet patients who are dealing with complex health conditions and who are over the moon grateful for Rejoice,” she said. “Part of her job is to help patients navigate the crazy, complex health care system. She also acts a liaison between the patients and ... health, human and social services organizations. She supports individuals dealing with serious illness by providing needed information on health and community resources, coordinating transportation and making appointments and appointment reminders.”

For Peters, Asomugha divides her daily medications in pill containers and sets alarms on her phone to remind her to take them.

“She provides friendship and a lifeline to people going through the most frightening times in their lives who are poor, often alone, confused and scared,” she said. “Rejoice stands in their kitchens and counts out their meds, while listening to their fears and hopes. She holds their hands and lifts them up.”

Asomugha, who has a degree in public health and is studying at Florida State College at Jacksonville to become a registered nurse, said her role is a combination of caseworker and loving but pesky friend.

“It is a big motivation in wanting to continue on,” she said. “It makes me feel good to be of some help to her and other patients.”

The community health worker position is funded by the Community First Cares Foundation and The Beaches Community Fund at The Community Foundation for Northeast Florida.

Missy Peters, executive director of the Community First Cares Foundation and no relation to Toni Peters, said she was impressed by the “idea to have a health care navigator be able to walk someone through” the health care system. Her father had cancer but had insurance and people to guide him, so she felt for the “struggle” of people who have no such resources, she said.

“I can’t imagine what life would be like without them in such a scary time,” she said.

Gastroenterologist David Loeb is a member of the grants committee for The Beaches Community Fund.

“Much of a successful recovery depends on what happens after a patient leaves the hospital,” he said. “Our enthusiasm for this grant was fueled by the strong collaborative nature of this effort — each organization doing what they do best to ‘wrap around’ patients to get them on the right track.”

Asomugha said her first name — Rejoice — stemmed from her parents’ joy at her arrival after they had difficulty conceiving.

“When I came to be, they rejoiced,” she said.

“Now I rejoice,” Toni Peters said.

 

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