Kim Whelan joined Commonwealth Care Alliance (CCA) as a care partner in 2020. For over ten years prior, she was focused on mental health and medically complex patients in Massachusetts. This made her very familiar with CCA and its unique mission to improve the health and well-being of people with significant needs.
“There is an incredibly underserved and undertreated population for mental health. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated the deficits in our healthcare system. At CCA, we’re able to recognize and treat members’ needs while keeping them safe and home. That’s a special and rare thing to find in healthcare,” Kim says.
Today, Kim is a triage nurse for CCA Primary Care. She supports patients in the Worcester area receiving home-based services. Her current role has been an exciting chance to use her clinical skills and build relationships in a smaller setting. When a patient calls a CCA Primary Care clinic, the message goes to a triage nurse. On any given day, she gets 20-30 telephone calls. She helps members with anything ranging from medical symptoms to difficulties with housing.
“I direct them to the right place. With symptoms, we talk through what they are experiencing, and I make a clinical recommendation. I schedule an urgent care visit if needed.”
Split-second decision-making is what sets the triage nurses, and the rest of the CCA Primary Care team, apart. In emergency situations, “we have to think quickly and act in the highest form of clinical judgment,” Kim says.
Like when a patient who had throat surgery expressed trouble breathing. Kim was able to assess the patient over the phone, while also calling 911 to get help to the patient’s home. The patient made it to the hospital for the emergency treatment they needed.
Kim knows how to jump into action when her patients need her most, but active listening comes first. Kim explains how important it is to pick up on small details when working over the phone. Sometimes it takes reading between the lines. “I need to hear what is going on, whether it is said or unsaid. You have to be acutely aware and attuned to your patients,” she says.
When a patient recently called in with a Spanish interpreter to request equipment, Kim picked up on something more urgent. She recognized signs of passive suicidal ideation. Passive suicidal ideation is thinking about, but not planning, one’s own death. She acted quickly. Within an hour, Kim put a plan of care in place to get the patient the needed behavioral health and family support.
“He was able to express feelings that previously, he was not in a place mentally to share. We stopped something from becoming a situation with a bad outcome. We were able to adjust his medications and have all of his family on board.”
While doing the job by phone is not what she was taught traditionally at nursing school, Kim sees the value. “It gives patients options and gives some of their time back. It’s been a positive experience for most of them.”
Kim credits positive outcomes to the trust and strong relationships that the CCA Primary Care team builds with patients, on and off the phone. After talking to a patient on the phone, she connects with their primary care provider and advanced practice clinician, who see the patient in the home. Kim works with the patients’ providers outside of CCA Primary Care, too.
“We work together. Our patients know that we are there for them. They know, this health plan, these practitioners, this staff, is special.”
Kim is driven by how CCA Primary Care is helping patients live safely and independently at home and finding specialists that fit, all while delivering home-based care—“That’s what makes me happy every day,” she says.
Kim admits her battery needs to be fully charged every day to do this job. But luckily, her fire runs deep. Her mom was a nurse, and she knew she had the same calling from a young age.
“Since I was 5 years old, I have always wanted to be a nurse. It’s in my bloodline. I want to help people.”
Her patients and team at CCA Primary Care are thankful for the commitment and energy she brings to the job each and every day.
If you or someone you know may be considering suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (En Español: 1-888-628-9454; Deaf and Hard of Hearing: 1-800-799-4889) or the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.