Published on January 05, 2022

Patient-focused program continues to make an IMPaCT

Mike Gerdeau and familyMike Gerdau is emphatic when he says his life was changed by an "out-of-the-blue" phone call he received from his primary care practice, asking if he'd like to participate in the IMPaCT Program.

And with his somewhat skeptical "yes," the lives of several family members living with him were changed as well.

"They said this new program would help me with things I wanted to improve on. To be honest, I really wasn't expecting anything to come out of it," says the 57-year-old Fairfield man, who set initial goals of losing weight, planning healthy meals and managing his diabetes.

"Several months later, it's become more than I ever imagined. It's changed my life and the lives of the five disabled people in my home – my parents, my in-laws and my wife, Donna, who is a stage-three cancer survivor," Gerdau adds.

A program launched through an extremely generous endowment provided by the Peter Alfond Foundation, IMPaCT provides emotional and social support to patients as they work toward one or more long-term health goals through weekly meetings with community health workers (CHWs) during a six-month period.

At MaineGeneral, CHWs are linked to and work closely with clinicians and staff at Augusta Family Medicine, Elmwood Primary Care, Family Medicine Institute, Four Seasons Family Practice, Maine Dartmouth Family Medicine and Thayer Internal Medicine.

A dining services supervisor when he started meeting with CHW DeeDee Bielecki, who works closely with patients at Elmwood Primary Care, Gerdau shared the challenges of trying to be the sole caretaker for his family members while working full time.

"Going to work 40 hours per week and then taking care of everything and everyone at home was exhausting, with no resolution in sight," he says.

IMPaCT Community Health Worker Dee Dee BieleckiBielecki asked if he had ever considered staying at home and being paid to care for his family through a program for which he may be eligible. She also told him about another that would reimburse him for transporting his loved ones to medical and other appointments. Gerdau had never considered this because he didn't know either program existed.

The two worked together on the necessary paperwork and Gerdau's applications were approved for both programs. This allowed him to leave his job and give full attention to his family without the added stressors he faced before.

Bielecki also helped prepare and submit MaineCare applications for his family members that also were approved, providing them with needed medical coverage.

"DeeDee took that weight off my shoulders. My wife, who was even more skeptical than I was at the beginning, calls her a saint," Gerdau says. "It's not just a monetary or physical relief for us, but a mental one as well – for my whole family."

"I'm very grateful for people like DeeDee who are meeting with patients, as well as those overseeing this program and trying to improve it – some of whom I'll never meet but am still grateful for," he adds. "It has given me a new appreciation for what care is all about."

Bielecki says she finds tremendous joy in helping people like the extended Gerdau family and the more than 20 other patients on her caseload. As each person's situation is unique, the extensive knowledge and experiences of her varied working career are a real asset in connecting them with resources that will support them and improve their quality of life.

"This job allows me to draw from everything I've done in the past to help others and, in working closely with them, I really get to know them and their life stories, which is what I find most enjoyable," she says.

If you are a patient at one of the participating primary care practices and think the IMPaCT program would benefit you, please discuss it with your clinician.