Caring for a Community

Caring for a Community

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Under the direction of a compassionate team of providers and staff, a new dawn is slipping across the horizon to make quality health care accessible to everyone in Aberdeen.

For three sweltering days in late April, fourth graders from six Aberdeen schools learned about diabetes, nutrition, and physical activity by sprinting relays around rows of orange safety cones. The distance depended on which food the Horizon Health Care leader of the American Diabetes Association’s “Diabetes Busters” activity announced. Healthy foods equaled fewer cones; unhealthy foods equaled more.

As one of South Dakota’s local Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHC), Horizon Health Care is vigilant about keeping every member of the Aberdeen community from falling through the cracks. Their primary care and behavioral health services help many populations, such as small business owners, immigrants, farmers, addicts, children, and the working poor. Because of federal funding, they are able to provide primary care at discounted rates and help anyone no matter their socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, or immigration status. “We really look at populations that are generally underserved or that could benefit from our wide array of services that we offer as an FQHC,” Regional Office Manager Haley Coss said. 

Preventative care is a huge part of what Horizon does in Aberdeen. Programs like “Diabetes Busters” plant seeds of healthy living in kids to prevent later struggles with the disease. The program approaches students who are just gaining independence in making their own decisions about physical activity and snacks and brings them and their families ideas for healthy choices. “If we can help our patients be healthier earlier, we shift the cost term from expensive treatment and disease management to much more cost-effective, preventative health care,” Chief Operating Officer Christina Konechne said.

To accommodate a range of people, Horizon operates on a sliding fee scale unique to each qualifying patient. “It’s truly not a one-size-fits-all,” Public Relations and Marketing Director Lexy Eggert said. “Our providers design our care plans in regards to what is best for the individuals.” They especially focus on personalized care for each patient with translation services, transportation help for referral appointments, and follow-up care.

Horizon also combats the drug and opioid crisis with behavioral health teams who help wean patients from addiction without rehab. “It’s just another part of being primary care. We are caring about physical, dental, and mental health, and drug addiction affects all of that,” Haley said. 

Last year, Community Health Centers like Horizon provided primary care, behavioral health services, or dental care to 67,671 South Dakotans, including uninsured patients, veterans, and children. Their goal is to provide primary care for all community members no matter the obstacle, whether that is money, language, or location. “The reason why we do it is because it’s extremely important that everyone has access to high-quality, affordable health care,” Christina said. “That’s truly what our mission is.”

Horizon Health Care has existed in rural communities across the state for 41 years and in Aberdeen since 2014. Aberdeen has two certified nurse practitioners, Cassandra Aesoph and Catherine Friesen, onsite X-ray technology, and an onsite lab. “We love Aberdeen,” Haley said. “This is such a cool community. It is exciting and challenging all for its own reasons.” Of Horizon’s core values, collaboration ties closely with the Aberdeen community, forming partnerships between local resources such as schools, Sanford, Avera, and Northeastern Mental Health Center. “A lot of communities don’t have that intentional initiative to focus on the overall health and wellness of their community,” Haley said, “and Aberdeen has this.”

According to Haley, Horizon’s mental health partnerships mean if a patient needs care but cannot afford it, other mental health facilities will refer them to Horizon to receive that care via telemedicine, which acts as a secure video chat between the patient in the clinic and the psychiatrist or licensed clinical social worker in another town. Haley said so far patients have been receptive to telemedicine.

Providers Cassandra Aesoph and Catherine Friesen of Aberdeen and Thyra Crissey, a CNP licensed in behavioral health in Yankton, keep a close relationship regarding the physical and psychological care of each mental health patient, approaching medicine management, therapy, and physical health with teamwork. “It’s actually pretty cool to watch even in our own organization how providers on opposite ends of the state are completely invested in just one person and getting them treated and well,” Haley said.

No matter the obstacle—distance or money—Horizon Health Care wants everyone in Aberdeen to have affordable and quality health care.

“Money or no money, house or job, all that stuff could go away at anytime, but our health is the most important thing,” Haley said. “We feel that in our communities, with our staff, and with our own families. We feel that no one should be excluded from getting health care.” // –Jenifer Fjelstad

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