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In the midst of a pandemic, Project Access remains a lifeline to those in need

project access members

Since PA-NH’s 2010 launch, staff and physicians have served more than 3,000 people through its Patient Navigation programs and more than 2,300 people through its Community Health Worker programs. Staff members include (l-r): Yahaira Alvarado, Haydee Hernandez, community health workers; Jacqueline Sanchez, lead patient navigator; Millie Landock, lead community health worker; David Diosa, Yaritza Rodriguez-Roman, patient navigators; Katia Astudillo, community health worker; and Giselle Carlotta-McDonald, executive director. 

Staff members at Project Access-New Haven are experts at handling complex situations. Every day, they help people who face multiple barriers receive the medical care they need. So when COVID-19 forced the organization to restructure its operations, staff quickly adapted. 

Project Access-New Haven (PA-NH) was founded in 2009 by local physicians concerned about inadequate access to medical care among low-income, uninsured and underinsured people. Many of these people delay or sacrifice care due to barriers such as cost, language and transportation. 

PA-NH patient navigators work with physicians (many of whom volunteer their time) to ensure these people receive timely urgent and specialty care. PA-NH community health workers help patients overcome social barriers such as financial hardship, food insecurity and inadequate housing.

COVID-19 hit the types of people PA-NH serves particularly hard. With help from various grants, including $45,000 from YNHH’s Medical Staff Fund, the organization has been able to retain its full staff and continue its critical work.

“The need for our services increased dramatically with COVID-19,” said Giselle Carlotta-McDonald, PA-NH executive director. “We had to keep on top of constant changes and challenges in the healthcare and social services environments and adapt our approach to helping patients.”

PA-NH patients’ need for urgent, non-COVID medical care remained high during the pandemic, but many appointments were rescheduled, relocated or offered via telemedicine. Patient navigators constantly communicated with patients and providers to ensure patients with urgent needs continued receiving timely care. 

COVID-related job losses significantly increased financial hardship, food insecurity and other social concerns. PA-NH community health workers researched and tapped additional community resources to help those affected.  

Staff also ensured that people concerned about COVID-19 prevention, exposure and symptoms received reliable information and services, such as testing and, later, vaccination. Staff also regularly checked in with people diagnosed with COVID-19. 

“During the COVID-19 health and economic crisis, our mission of improving access to medical care for underserved individuals in Greater New Haven became even more critical,” said Steven Wolfson, MD, former board president and one of PA-NH’s founders. “In the face of new challenges, we have found new strength to combat health disparities, advance health equity and promote health and well-being in our community.”