Published February 21, 2019
Paula Stewart originally came to work for CCANO after the BP oil spill and became the first case manager to work in affected parishes to assist residents with the physical and emotional aftermath of the disaster. While providing excellent service and care, she noticed that locals had poor health indicators because they had not had access to primary and specialty medical care at a time before Louisiana had Medicaid expansion, which meant most low-income people were uninsured.
After recognizing a need for a comprehensive care management program, Paula founded Health Guardians in tandem with the Medical Director of Catholic Charities, Dr. Elmore Rigamer, MD, to address the medical and social determinants of health. She pioneered the practice of accompanying patients to their medical visits to ensure they could express their medical concerns and understand the physicians’ orders. She has demonstrated that when patients understand their illnesses and learn to manage their problems, they are more likely to seek preventive care and not need frequent ER visits. Her work at Health Guardians has resulted in significant economic savings, and her team has received the National Case Management Award.
Health Guardians contributes to the City’s Emergency Medical Services by reducing the number of unnecessary calls patients make once they learn how to receive care in medical clinics rather than in emergency rooms. Patients are chosen because of their poor health and the unnecessary costs they incur with avoidable hospital and emergency room visits. This model is so successful that other Catholic Charities across the country are adopting the program.
Outside of her immediate duties, Paula continues to fight for health education for all by mentoring students in the Health Sciences, including pre-med, medical, social work, and public health students. Through this work, she encourages students to look at patients not just clinically but from social, medical, educational, familial, and economic perspectives.
Paula’s supervisor, Dr. Rigamer, says, “She has a strong empathy for the underserved, and it is through her mentorship that students have come to appreciate what a patient experiences when trying to obtain health care.”