In Montana’s northwest Flathead Valley, it is not uncommon for residents to have to travel over 30 miles away to the closest hospital in Kalispell, the commercial hub of the county. In addition to being geographically isolated, these residents often face socioeconomic challenges that impact their ability to access health care. This includes a lack of both public transportation beyond city limits and affordable housing. Many residents struggle with food insecurity, health literacy and financial barriers to buying healthy food and acquiring necessary medical equipment and medication. The state, like others, has also been experiencing health care workforce shortages, further impacting access to care.
In 2015, Logan Health in Kalispell (formerly Kalispell Regional Healthcare), launched the ASSIST program, a nonprofit subsidized by the Logan Health Foundation, Inc. that uses trained volunteers to help residents access essential health services and social services. ASSIST volunteers address the economic and social conditions that impact health by connecting residents to important community resources, like shelter services, veteran services, Medicaid and food stamps.
When working with residents, ASSIST volunteers often fill the role of a spouse, adult child or caretaker. They may do a three-way phone call with the resident and a federal or state agency, staying on the phone for hours if necessary and knowing what questions to ask when the call is picked up. Some ASSIST volunteers help residents by filling out their care-related paperwork. ASSIST also provides free transportation to doctor appointments, giving over 4,000 rides a year in wheelchair accessible vans.
ASSIST’s main clientele tends to be elderly and/or veterans, who often have not accessed their benefits yet or who start to need benefits as they age. Most ASSIST referrals come from medical teams at Logan Health. Though the ASSIST program is unique to Logan Health, there are now several programs on the east coast that provide a similar service — helping residents access critical community resources that impact their health and well-being.
For more information, visit: https://www.logan.org/news/listen-the-assist-program-at-logan-health/