Patient Praises Eskenazi Health’s Encouragement of Self-Advocacy

Indianapolis native Denetia Woodruff says she’s “an advocate for myself,” a position she reached after years of navigating the complicated health care world.

The widow and mother of four decided to try Eskenazi Health Center Forest Manor. Early tests she was given there uncovered chronic illnesses: “I had diabetes, high blood pressure. I already had GERD [gastroesophageal reflux disease] . . . and asthma and then found out I had COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease]. I was in Stage 2 then, but this other facility, they never got any of this . . . . ”

At Eskenazi Health, her illnesses were finally being treated, something she described as “just so monumental to my health.” She appreciates the time her new physicians took to explain her treatments — first Patrice Cates-Lonberger, M.D., and then Broderick Rhyant, M.D.

For Woodruff, knowledge is key to advocating for one’s health. She makes it a priority “to get familiar, to get educated.” She joins diabetes and blood-pressure classes and programs Dr. Rhyant and other Eskenazi Health providers recommend and researches her conditions and analyzes her test results in Eskenazi Health’s MyChart system.

In previous facilities, she felt overlooked and pressed to take the wrong medications. “People of color,” she says, “we kinda do get pushed to the side regarding a lot of our issues that we have.” She was frustrated by previous doctors’ refusal to answer questions unrelated to a visit. She said their attitude felt like, “‘If you need to talk about anything else, honey, you need to make another visit because that 15 minutes is for you, and that’s it . . . . ’”

As a patient, Woodruff admits that she’s not biddable, explaining, “I’m not just the next patient that’s getting ready to go to room D. I’ve got questions.”

Given her experiences, she’s quick to share her communication preferences with providers: “I’m telling you upfront that I’m bothersome,” she states, “so therefore you know at the beginning how I want to be treated . . . . I’ve got questions for your questions’ questions, so respect me enough to know that I am that way. And don’t rush me.”

Some health care centers haven’t appreciated Woodruff’s proactive approach. In contrast, she says, “Eskenazi facilities and the doctors have made me feel like I am not just a number” and that “my questions are not just, ‘Who is she with this pen and paper?’” she says.

She encourages others to follow her example, explaining that health care advocacy is about more than one’s own wellbeing: “You can actually save someone else in your family.”

“Continue to fight for what you need to fight for,” she says, “and if you don’t know how to ask a question, you can get with a social worker.”

Woodruff appreciates that Eskenazi Health is asking crucial questions too, such as “What are the barriers our patients are facing, so they don’t have to be this sick all the time? What can we do?”

She’s enthusiastic about Eskenazi Health’s efforts to tackle social determinants of health barriers, factors outside of clinical settings that affect communities’ wellness, such as transportation and food insecurity. “Eskenazi keeps growing and growing in the right directions for the patients,” she says.

One example of these efforts is the Eskenazi Health Fresh for You Market on the main campus. Patients who screen as food insecure during clinical visits are given vouchers to shop for free produce and other healthy options. Woodruff says the market voucher program “has saved my family a couple of times . . . When I went down there, I was mesmerized. I was excited,” she says. For her family, the market vouchers “came right on time . . . . ”

Woodruff doesn’t take the quality of the care or programs at Eskenazi Health for granted. After reflecting that the on-site market has helped not just herself, but also elderly patients struggling to fit in store and medical visits, she gave the market’s managers a card:  “. . . I’m so thankful for everybody, not just me. . . ” she says.

She is anticipating a new Eskenazi Health offering as well: the state-of-the-art facility on East 38th Street, set to open in April. She looks forward to its x-ray and other testing capabilities and kitchen for her classes. There, in addition to the other advantages she’s gained through Eskenazi Health, she’ll benefit from a  “one-stop visit.”

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