by Kari Apted
Jennifer Phillips has immersed herself in patient care as part of Piedmont Newton Hospital’s care management department, all while volunteering her free time to help ease the community’s many medical challenges.
Jennifer Phillips on any given day wears many hats, from counselor and mediator to caregiver and friend. A native of Rockdale and Newton counties, Phillips is fully immersed in patient care in her role as medical social worker for Piedmont Newton Hospital’s care management department. She spends her days working with patients at the hospital and then volunteers much of her free time helping alleviate medical challenges in the community.
Patients at Solid Rock Baptist Church’s Willing Helpers Medical Clinic are quite familiar with Phillips’ warm smile and comfortable demeanor. This free clinic operates on a variable schedule that depends on volunteer doctors, nurses and social workers, many of whom are from Piedmont Newton.
“I think the hospital should be the heart of the community,” Phillips said. “Piedmont Newton understands that.”
The hospital’s chief medical officer, Dr. Norris Little, can frequently be found working alongside Phillips at the Willing Helpers clinic. Phillips indicated that most patients have no idea about his title at the hospital; they only know him as Dr. Little, and they appreciate his care.
It’s important to come to the patient as a partner, not as a judge. I respect everyone’s dignity and worth. To me, you’re not just a patient—you’re a person.Jennifer Phillips,
Piedmont Newton Hospital Medical Social Worker
“Newton County is unique in that we’re a big county with an urban center, but we also have a large rural population,” Phillips said. “People are surprised to learn what a problem homelessness is in Newton; and in our rural areas, we have transit deserts, where people lack easy access to transportation to connect them with the medical care they need. Even when patients have transportation, many do not have a medical ‘home’ or primary care doctor to coordinate their care.”
These patients often lack health insurance and turn to the Piedmont Newton emergency room when ordinary illnesses strike. Although this takes care of the immediate problem, the ER does not provide the follow-up services or long-term care needed to manage chronic illnesses. This is where the community’s free clinics can help fill the gap.
“Newton has high levels of poverty, high levels of uninsured people,” Phillips said. “Georgia has the fourth-highest levels of uninsured patients in the country, and Newton’s numbers are even higher. We have about 15,000 uninsured people in Newton alone.”
Phillips added that Newton residents also suffer from disproportionately high rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, congestive heart failure and diseases related to smoking, such as cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. Many Newton residents have more than one of these conditions, which increases their chances of facing serious health crises.
These county-wide needs are what drive Phillips to devote so much of her personal time to connecting at-risk patients to the healthcare services they need. In addition to volunteering at the Willing Helpers clinic, Phillips also plays a vital role in leading the “Be Healthy Newton” program. This monthly community clinic is held in partnership with the Newton County Health Department. Its purpose is to help explain and alleviate the “why” behind many chronic medical conditions.
Whether it is helping discharged Piedmont Newton patients with the resources they need to get back on their feet or volunteering at the community clinics, Phillips finds real purpose in giving back to the area she has always called home.
One mission in particular is to remove the judgment associated with lifestyle-related health issues, such as smoking cessation or losing weight.
“It’s important to come to the patient as a partner, not as a judge,” Phillips said. “I respect everyone’s dignity and worth. To me, you’re not just a patient—you’re a person.”
For more information about the Willing Helpers Clinic, call Solid Rock Baptist Church at 678-625-8317.
To learn how to get a referral to the “Be Healthy Newton” program, contact the Newton County Health Department at 770-786-9086.