Ala Dua, a Russian-Jew who immigrated from Israel to the United States with her husband while in her 20s not long after World War II, is experienced at overcoming obstacles.
She and her husband, David, first came to America with their three boys, ages 10, 8 and 7 months. The young family settled in Northeast Philadelphia and, together, Ala and David ran the well-known Dave’s Bakery at Germantown and Lehigh Avenues for more than 30 years.
“Back in the bakery’s heyday, we were a neighborhood fixture,” recalls Dua. “We were a favorite stop for famous Philadelphia political-types, athletes, and artists. We used to bake for Joe Frazier and we made Teddy Pendergrass’ wedding cake.”
Life dealt her a serious blow when David passed away in 2005. The man who had been her life partner was no longer there to help navigate bills and the complicated world of medical insurance as well as other non-medical issues which impact quality of life. “David was taken so suddenly and I was at a loss to take on all he managed,” she explains. To compound problems, she was diagnosed with Lupus, a chronic condition which requires frequent doctor visits and medication.
For Dua, managing her life and her condition was a daunting and confusing process. With the help of her Einstein physician, Ellen Zagrebelsky, MD, at Einstein Geriatric – Prime Health, Dua was trying to take care of her health and take care of all the healthcare bills. Dr. Zagrebelsky was trying to help patients, like Dua, who struggle with language as a barrier, navigate the strange and confusing business of healthcare. Zagrebelsky explains, “Even the simple task of scheduling follow up tests and appointments is difficult and patients either can’t or won’t call to schedule.”
Andrew Rosenzweig, MD, CMD, FACP, geriatrician and Division Chair of Geriatrics for Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia, reports that Dua is like many patients they see at Einstein Geriatric, located at 9892 Bustleton Avenue, in the heart of a very large Russian immigrant community. “For many of our patients, English is a second language and when trying to understand or deal with healthcare issues it is a detriment,” he explains. “Many times it is the physicians who work to help the patients, but then this takes away from the time they have with other patients and many times we (physicians) are not the experts in getting them the help they need outside medical care.”
Thanks to a generous grant from The Bernard and Etta Weinberg Family Fund of the Jewish Federation, Einstein has established the Outpatient Russian Language Care Coordination Program at Einstein Geriatric – Prime Health. The program is designed to bridge patient care across settings, from outpatient visits at the Prime Health physician practice, to homecare for homebound patients and inpatient care for hospitalized patients. It combines the medical expertise of Dr. Zagrebelsky, paired with the support of Patient Services Representative, Lora Bederman, both of whom are fluent in Russian and English. Bederman, who has a degree in healthcare administration, focuses on helping patients deal with the social and emotional issues that impact health and access to care.
“Lora is the linchpin to the services,” reports Dr. Rosenzweig. “Since starting with us in February 2017, she has taken her knowledge of the community and built a program assisting countless patients on a weekly basis.”
With a major focus on keeping patients at home for as long as possible, Bederman visits patients in their homes and, based on their needs, can arrange Meals on Wheels, home health aides, adult day care program services, prescription refills, or other homecare interventions. Approximately 250 homebound patients are served.
“Most of our Russian patients don’t speak English so they’re not able to schedule appointments or arrange for social services so they relied on Dr. Zagrebelsky for this help,” says Bederman. “Now that I’m here to manage these things, Dr. Zagrebelsky is able to see many more patients and we’ve brought new patients into the practice. It’s a win-win situation.”
For Dr. Zagrebelsky’s part, she is happy to have her time freed up to see more patients and help them with true medical issues. “The implementation of this program is allowing me to practice medicine the way I always dreamed I would,” she recalls. “Now that I am relieved of the frustration of trying to help patients navigate the healthcare system, I can just focus on taking care of my patients. Dealing with these issues used to take me hours. Lora is able to expertly navigate these problems in much less time and with much more success.”
The number of patients being seen and helped through the program continues to grow. Bederman says word of mouth is the best advertisement and the community is very tight. Help for one means help for many more. “I love working with people. Each day there is a new challenge or surprise, but all the time the work is very gratifying.”