CareOregon housing managers help members find a home to heal

PORTLAND, Ore. — When you’re struggling with colon cancer, you have enough on your mind without worrying about a roof over your head. That’s why CareOregon palliative care and housing case managers teamed up recently to get a member into better housing.

Through its relationship with Coordinated Care Organizations, CareOregon manages care for about 180,000 members of the Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid), a population that is at greater risk for housing insecurity. Last year, CareOregon’s Housing Management program helped more than 70 members get or keep housing as part of its health-linked housing initiatives.

One of these members, Cynthia Schneider, had been self-employed for many years and was without a home of her own or health care insurance when she was diagnosed with colon cancer. With the help of her “angels,” she is getting both the care and housing she needs.

The Indiana native had made herself a life in California in the decorative arts but her longing for changing seasons brought her to Oregon. She and a partner raised horses in Corbett and her decorative arts work adorned businesses like the Heathman Hotel and Pioneer Square food court.

Life brings changes and when times got tough, she occasionally traded her plumbing and electrical skills for a roof over her head. Sometimes those “party animal” roommates challenged her 30-plus years of sobriety.

“That’s when I started sleeping in my car and couch surfing,” Cynthia says. She was rooming in a friend’s home when she was diagnosed. Her naturopathic doctor referred her to a hospital as a fast track to getting signed up for the Oregon Health Plan. One of the benefits of the Affordable Care Act is the increase in catching colon and breast cancer earlier.

An Oregon Health Plan assister at the hospital “asked me three questions, then brought over the Medicaid forms for me to sign and said, ‘You’re enrolled.’” That assister was among the first of her “angels.” “I don’t even know his name,” Cynthia says.

Getting CareOregon as her Medicaid provider also turned out to be the fast track to better housing. Cynthia’s palliative care manager, Lisa Pearlstein, believed Cynthia needed a place to call her own. Lisa reached out to Naudia West, a CareOregon housing case manager. CareOregon’s housing case managers function as advocates, help with paperwork, provide financial assistance for pay application fees and work closely with members to help them find safe and stable housing that fits their unique needs.

As part of CareOregon’s Population Health Partnerships department, Naudia is well-acquainted with the various public, subsidized and emergency housing options and processes.

“CareOregon doesn’t have its own housing partnerships, so I worked with medical, housing and other organizations to get her on a priority list because of her health,” says Naudia. The wait list is managed by Home Forward, formerly known as the Housing Authority of Portland.

“Running the bureaucratic maze is complicated in the best of times, with forms to fill out, documents to round up. Even with Cynthia’s serious illness, it took a while to make this happen, something that would have been almost impossible for Cynthia to cope with at this point in her life,” Naudia says. “Struggling with ‘chemo brain,’ as Cynthia calls it, didn’t make it any easier.”

Cynthia agrees: “I have a hard time keeping information in my head. I would not have been able to navigate my part of this without my angels. I have a posse of angels, and she [Naudia] is one of my top angels.”

While awaiting word on housing, Naudia checked in with Cynthia at her weekly visit to OHSU Center for Health & Healing to see how Cynthia was doing.

Between Christmas and Easter, Cynthia was able to get into a studio at a HomeForward community. That’s pretty fast by housing standards. Transition Projects paid the required first and last months’ rent, thanks to Naudia’s know-how.

Cynthia has a peaceful room with a view in Sellwood, where she can watch the clouds roll across Portland, and be close to treatment and friends.

“Somebody asked me if I have a list of things I want to do,” Cynthia says. “No, I don’t have a list and I don’t have any regrets. I just need to stay current with people in my life now and not leave anything unsaid.”

About CareOregon
CareOregon is a nonprofit community benefits company that’s been involved in health plan services, reforms and innovations since 1994, serving Oregon Health Plan (Medicaid) and Medicare members and their communities. Our mission is cultivating individual well-being and community health through shared learning and innovation. Our vision is healthy communities for all individuals, regardless of income or social circumstances. We focus on the total health of our members, not just traditional health care. In teaming up with members, their families and their communities, we help Oregonians live better lives, prevent illness and respond effectively to health issues.

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