A journey in supporting patients with barriers to health and housing Sandra Arzola, Homeless Health Navigator

In May 2021, Sandra Arzola began her new role as the case navigator for the Behavioral Health Integration (BHI) Incentive Program at Adventist Health White Memorial.

She was ideally suited for this position, having thrived for 10 years as a patient care dialysis liaison. “I wanted to help my community,” Arzola stated when asked why she entered the medical field. “I would be able to help them, guide them, direct them, empower them, teach them.”

Arzola’s sincere demeanor and gentle spirit made it easy for patients to share intimate challenges with her, from difficulties in the shower to conflicting work schedules. In turn, she helped procure necessities like shower chairs or recommended home health options over dialysis center visits.

Similarly, as the new BHI case navigator, Arzola provided enhanced care to nearly 100 adult behavioral health patients monthly, assisting with their post-discharge appointments, adherence to care plans, and connecting them to vital resources like housing and transportation.

However, despite her preparedness, the emotional depth needed to care for behavioral health patients blindsided Arzola. The intensity of their challenges, often amplified by substance abuse and socioeconomic conditions, pushed her to her emotional limits.

“I didn’t know what I was getting myself into,” Arzola recalled. “They suffer from lots of behavioral health issues, drug issues and trauma.”

Day after day, a new heart-wrenching patient story weighed heavier on her heart. By December, she doubted her capacity to endure much more.

Norma Bravo, the BHI licensed clinical social worker and Arzola’s mentor, stepped in with timely advice at this crucial moment. In the quiet confine of an elevator, Arzola opened up to Bravo.

“I think I’m going to look for another job,” Arzola confided. “I can’t. This is a lot.”

“When you’re given something you’re not comfortable with, that’s when you grow the most,” Bravo gently replied. “So, Sandra, you’re growing. Give it a chance. You haven’t given it a chance.”

Bravo reminded Arzola that aiding behavioral health patients was both a challenging and rewarding journey. She reassured her of her inherent strength and emphasized that her heart was much bigger than she could imagine.

Embracing this perspective, Arzola persevered, realizing her profound capacity for compassion. She also deepened her understanding of mental health, becoming a passionate proponent of mental health awareness and challenging common misconceptions.

“The Hispanic Latino community is so underserved, and they need so much guidance,” Arzola noted. “In our community and the population of patients we serve, it’s really taboo. You don’t go to the therapist because you’re ‘crazy.’ But it’s about educating them that they’re not crazy and it’s okay to seek help.”

By December 2022, as the BHI grant concluded, Arzola had transformed into a seasoned case navigator rooted deeper in her work’s purpose.

Today, Arzola is the homeless health navigator for the Homeless Health Navigation Project (HHNP), a program funded by Good Hope and UniHealth.

Mirroring BHI, she aids unhoused patients for 90 days post-discharge and bridges their needs to available resources, often encompassing behavioral health care. One standout case was a diabetic woman living with her husband in a motel with over 15 hospital admissions in one year because she feared dialysis centers.

To help her overcome this fear, Arzola secured her a Full-Service Partnership (FSP) with the Department of Mental Health, which offers holistic care, including housing and personalized therapy. “Now I know that, hopefully, she’ll continue with her therapies,” Arzola commented. “And maybe that’ll help her with her fear of dialysis.”

Arzola’s dedication to Adventist Health White Memorial’s mission and community shaped her journey. Each role served as a stepping stone, refined her capabilities, challenged her to confront and shed limiting beliefs, and pushed her to embrace a more empowered vision of her purpose and potential.

Reflecting on her journey and career, she said, “As you get older, you question, am I really doing what I need to do? Am I living my purpose? And sometimes, I’ve asked that question to myself. Coming into BHI and now the Homeless Program, since 2021, I’ve learned so much. Recently, I realized that I really am living my purpose, and I’m living it here because I’m helping others here at White.”

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