Sam Murillo, Director of Navigation Programs

Bridging Hospital and Community: Family Navigator program expands

Sam Murillo, Director of Navigation Programs
Sam Murillo, Director of Navigation Programs

Four years ago, Family Voices Colorado received funding from the Department of Health Care Policy and Financing to start a pilot program at Children’s Hospital Colorado, in which a Family Voices staff member would be based at the hospital three days a week to help families navigate systems and connect with community resources. Sam Murillo was that Family Navigator for the first three years, laying the groundwork, helping hospital staff understand the unique gifts of the role, and working through challenges common to any pilot project.

Sam explains what makes family navigation unique:

Navigation is a unique service delivery model that serves as a natural bridge from the health care setting to the community. It extends traditional care coordination, case management and social work roles by providing training and education on the various medical and non-medical systems to families and hospital staff. Navigation also provides direct advocacy as appropriate and needed in resolving systemic barriers. Together, all of these methods create an approach that honors the principles of true family-centered care.”

As the hospital navigation program celebrates its four-year milestone this August, Sam finds himself in a new role, as Director of Navigation Programs. The pilot project was very successful, with the navigation program recognized as an effective service delivery model and highly valued as part of the Neurology and Child Health Clinic teams. Dr. Carolyn Green, a physician in the Neurology Clinic, explained in a 2012 survey of hospital staff regarding the program,

“Having Sam in the role of Navigator not only eases the mental burden for the families but improves my ability to provide excellent medical care. Often I am sure a family would benefit not only in a social or financial way but also in a medical way by having access to community based resources, like the epilepsy foundation, which provide disease and treatment information.  Although intentions are good to share that information, it is not feasible to cover all resource information during a visit. Often families need to process what they have been told at a visit before they are able to use some information and having a facilitator outside the visit time but inside the system is tremendous.”

And the project’s success is far more than anecdotal: in the four years since the Family Navigator program’s inception, the Neurology clinic reported a 32% decrease in emergency department utilization. In that same time period, the Family Navigator completed over 4,000 encounters with patients and families, on average seeing or talking with each patient/family about 20 times to connect them with the resources they need, to help them navigate systems and services, and to troubleshoot barriers and obstacles they encounter.

Thanks to Sam’s hard work and these highly promising results, the Family Navigator program has recently entered into a direct contract with Children’s Hospital Colorado, where a new Family Navigator, Colette Christen (who previously worked as the Resource & Systems Navigation Specialist, staffing our Provider Helpline), is now full-time in the Neurology Clinic, and Susana Herrera has moved into the role of Family Navigator for the Child Health Clinic. In addition, a separate grant has allowed the program to expand to Denver Health’s Special Needs Clinic.

Looking to the future, Sam has a vision of the growing, mutually beneficial relationship between Family Voices Colorado and health care providers serving families of young people with special health care needs:

“The navigation model not only amplifies the presence and awareness of Family Voices, but also increases the ability of specialty and primary care settings to meet the complex systemic needs of families. While FVC remains available to [hospitals] as a whole, many clinics have shown interest in creating a designated Family Navigator role as well. As we grow and build momentum, we are committed to an intentional planning process that will develop further infrastructure, standardization across environments, and best practice policies and procedures.”

Just one more way that Family Voices is making Colorado a better place for children and youth with special health care needs!

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