Published on August 11, 2022

Learning to accept a helping hand

Throughout his life, South China resident John Carey has never been shy about helping others – as an employer with his own construction company in Boston or as a friend or neighbor in both Massachusetts and Maine, where he’s lived for the past 20 years.

MaineGeneral IMPaCT Community Health Worker Katie Rugg, left, and patient John CareyBeing willing to accept needed help, however, was a different story – especially when asking others for transportation became a source of tremendous anxiety. The anxiety was so great, in fact, that Carey had not seen his primary care doctor for more than four years.

Eventually, the 69-year-old retiree’s physical and mental health worsened. He became depressed and felt socially isolated from an extended network of family and friends in Massachusetts willing to provide support and companionship if he lived closer.

His life unexpectedly changed for the better in March 2022, when his doctor at Elmwood Primary Care connected him with IMPaCT Community Health Worker (CHW) Katie Rugg. Their regular meetings and interactions have led to many positive changes for Carey, including Meals on Wheels deliveries, home health care services and wheelchair-van transportation to medical appointments.

“Katie is fantastic,” Carey said. “When I first met her, I was floundering within the health care system. There were many community resources which could have improved my quality of life that I didn’t know existed or how to access them. She’s done more for me than I ever could have imagined.”

Carey even credits Rugg with saving his life after she relayed alarmingly low oxygen levels from his pulse oximeter to his doctor during a visit, which triggered a needed stay at MaineGeneral’s Alfond Center for Health in Augusta.

“She sent a note to my doctor that I was having trouble breathing and getting over COVID, and my doctor responded immediately, telling me to call an ambulance and go to the hospital,” he said. “After staying there for four days, I’m a new man, and I really have to thank Katie for that. By being present with me that day, she helped bring me back to life. She was sympathetic and empathetic, everything you can ask for in an advocate.”

“That meeting was really a blessing in disguise because John’s doctor wanted him to see several specialists, but it was hard enough for him to get to one appointment let alone several,” Rugg recalled. “While he was admitted, however, he was seen by all of the specialists that his primary care doctor wanted, so now he’s completely up to date on everything.”

Rugg noted that Carey now is in a much different space – physically and mentally – than when she first met him.

“He’s a very proud man, so one of the initial problems was that while he needed the help, he had a hard time accepting it,” she said. “I assured him that he earned, deserved and needed the help and that he wasn’t just accepting it for nothing. Making him aware of available community resources gave him the confidence to go in for his initial visit with his doctor – and we’ve just continued from there.”

Rugg and Carey now are diligently searching for a senior living option for him in Massachusetts.

“We’re working on housing applications and getting him on waitlists,” she said. “He recognizes his health isn’t great and knows his family would be happy to help care for him if he lived closer to them.”

Before he began participating in the IMPaCT program, Carey didn’t know it existed. He’s now one of its strongest champions.

“Anyone in my situation, being elderly and basically homebound, needs something like this, even if it’s just to visit with us and notice changes in our health and perspective,” he said. “It has been so helpful to have someone actually help me get connected to resources rather than simply handing me applications and wishing me luck.”

“Thanks to Katie and her intervention, I’ve gone from being isolated and on the verge of depression to being excited about life again,” Carey added. “This program has had a tremendous impact on my life.”