Allison Behrndt

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“That’s a nice big hat you have on, sir.” “Thank you, mam,” replies this new patient. I am observing a new patient go through Eligibility Screening at the Rockbridge Area Health Center. After they go over his proof of residence, tax forms, and monthly income, he has his vital signs and patient history taken by a nurse. I followed this man through the entire process during my first week at RAHC. His smile and southern charm were a delight. Even though he had some mental disabilities, he was treated with the utmost dignity and respect that every patient receives at the RAHC.

As a medical intern at the Rockbridge Area Health Center, I learned more than how to take patients’ vital signs, patient histories, etc. Of course, I enjoyed learning how to take blood pressures, test hemoccult cultures, test A1cs, and learn more about how to care for chronic diseases like diabetes. However, I discovered what quality healthcare truly means. Through my past clinical experiences, I observed fantastic doctors. However, the people that come to the Rockbridge Area Health Center are not like the patients I saw treated at other hospitals or doctors’ offices. These people live in rural poverty. They have access to limited resources, and they face one of the most difficult struggles as humans: asking for help. However, the people that do finally ask for help are received with open arms at the health center. The Rockbridge Area Health Center has a mission of providing quality healthcare to anyone who asks for it, primarily the uninsured and underinsured. Through their medical, dental, pharmaceutical, behavioral, and vision care, they do their best to bring health care to this underserved area. The collaborative care at the Rockbridge Area Health Center is inspiring for anyone who has a passion for providing healthcare.

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The man with the nice big hat came back for multiple visits throughout the summer. Whenever I heard his voice as he checked in at the front desk, it brought a smile to my face. Everyone seemed to perk up when he walked through the door. This time, I was the one to call his name and take his vital signs. Although this was a small and simple task, I enjoyed engaging him in a conversation just like I did with the other patients. Then, once he was done seeing the nurse practitioner, he said goodbye to me with a tip of his hat.

The Rockbridge Area Health Center provides “heart care.” One of the staff members used that phrased at a weekly staff meeting. It does take true passion a lot of heart to bring the best care possible to these people. Because many of these patients live in poverty, it also takes some creativity and patience. I also learned in a larger scope how places like the Rockbridge Area Health Center care for those people who fall through the cracks of our health care system. Through poverty classes and seminars at the University of Notre Dame, I have learned how health care policy affects those in poverty. With the many changes in this coming year, places like RAHC will be key to continue to exist and grow. I hope that the Rockbridge Area Health Center and other health care providers continue their mission of giving heart care to those in need.

To contact Allison, please email her at abehrndt@alumni.nd.edu