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Making Room

It was one of those weeks. The waiting room was full of patients. The 64 slots in the day’s schedule were already crammed with 72 appointments.

Nayla Jiménez Cabezas, who was serving as Maple City Health Care Center’s manager, answered her clamoring phone. “There’s an urgent request on line one,” the voice on the phone reported. “We have zero room for a walk-in and he’s not a patient of ours. But this guy won’t give up. Could you talk with him?”

Nayla punched a line on her phone and listened as a man described the plight of his friend.

“Rick [not his real name] is an alcoholic and basically homeless. He’s been sober for a couple of weeks partly because of medication he got at a hospital. They admitted him for detox because he was suicidal. But his meds are about to expire. In a few days Rick will be moving out of state. He’s headed for a treatment facility and he needs a physical and another round of meds.”

“I’m sorry, but we can’t take new patients,” Nayla replied. “Our doctors are swamped with the patients we already have.”

“Rick says he’s a patient of yours from about five years ago,” the friend said.

Unable to find Rick’s name in the computer, Nayla checked with James Nelson Gingerich, Maple City Health Care Center’s medical director. James remembered Rick from the early days of the Center – a congenial man with big hands and a big heart.

Nayla studied the clogged schedule on her computer screen. “Okay,” she told Rick’s friend. “I’ll move some appointments around. Have him here tomorrow at three o’clock. Please don’t be late.”

The next day, Rick’s friend called Nayla and announced, “Rick can’t make his appointment this afternoon. Can you reschedule him for tomorrow?”

Nayla took a deep breath. “I already moved other people around to make room for Rick today. Why can’t he come?”

“The problem is … Rick’s in jail. It’s a probation thing, but I think I can get him out by the end of the day.”

“Let’s try this,” Nayla suggested. “Rick can come in and wait to see if there’s a cancellation or some other way we can squeeze him in.” The friend thanked Nayla and said they would be there the next day.

The strategy worked. James found time to see Rick. “As busy as James was, he took time to listen and to fully understand Rick’s situation.” Rick’s friend reported. “Rick got an exam and some of the pills he needed. James even provided a box of nicotine gum to help him stop smoking.

“But the staff at Maple City didn’t stop there,” continued Rick’s friend. “Rick’s teeth were so bad he could barely eat. Maple City referred Rick to a sliding fee dentist in Elkhart, then paid for Rick’s visit.

“Rick felt really good about what happened at Maple City Health Care Center. They treated him with respect.”

Rick’s friend reports that Rick was sober for a couple of months before a relapse around Christmas. In mid-February, thanks to a prescription written by James, Rick started another round of antabuse, a deterrent to drinking “Rick’s struggles with alcoholism aren’t over,” the friend observed. “But he’s in a better place, thanks to the care he received at Maple City Health Care Center.”

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