For more than 30 years, Katherine Gonzalez worked as a dental office manager, watching patients come and go from behind a desk. Four years ago, she jumped at the opportunity to become a care manager and stand beside the patient.
This work “fills my heart,” she says. “In the private practice, sometimes the people at the front desk wouldn’t treat patients properly because they were low income and had Medicaid. I wanted to treat them all equally, no matter their ability to pay. Nonprofit work is where my heart is.”
Gonzalez says her goal as a care manager, and now as the care management supervisor at the North Colorado Health Alliance, is to “make sure everyone feels welcome and gets the quality care they need.” North Colorado Health Alliance works with Health First Colorado members who are attributed to Sunrise Community Health Centers or the Banner Clinics in Larimer County.
Her day starts early, checking to see which Rocky Mountain Health Plans members in Larimer County were admitted or discharged from local hospitals or visited any emergency rooms in the area the previous day. Each of these members will need a follow-up call or home visit to ensure they have a primary a care physician, a scheduled follow-up visit and the ability to access the services they need. She manages telephonic physician referrals and provides follow up assignments to eight care managers on her team.
Although Gonzales’s direct work with members is telephonic, she assigns complex cases to other care managers who meet face-to-face with Health First Colorado enrollees, so they can assess their physical, social and mental health needs and connect them to needed resources.
As a supervisor, Gonzalez represents the North Colorado Health Alliance at community meetings and training sessions and brings back the information to train and support her staff.
Gonzalez’s supervisors say she infuses a positive office environment with a spirit of service and a heart of compassion that goes beyond the job description. She keeps her eyes and ears open to community organizations and programs that will benefit low-income families, like library programs for children that are free or low cost, or holiday food baskets. The team also opened a small food and clothing pantry in the office for emergencies. Donations come from the community, staff and even members themselves.
“When we get extra food, we just bring it in and have it here, in case someone calls us at 5 p.m. and there’s not time for them to use a food bank voucher,” she says.
Gonzalez says she offers members an empowerment opportunity with these compassion exchanges by giving those who receive a chance to “give back,” too. “We have a member who knows how to knit, and one year she knitted a bunch of hats for homeless people. We provided the yarn and she donates the time for her ‘give back,’” she says. “When we give out donated toiletries, or a gift card for a new bike tire, food or gas, we tell them that we like for them to give back, too. They can contribute in that way, and they invest in their community, too."