HGH Patient Access Team Leader Receives National Accreditation

One year ago, Theresa Chwastek had never even heard of the Patient Access to Healthcare Department.

Now, as the department's leader, Chwastek was recently recognized by the National Association of Healthcare Access Management for having fulfilled the requirements to become a "Certified Healthcare Access Associate."

Humboldt General Hospital launched the new department in March to coincide with its expansion of its "Charity Care" program.

Previously, HGH's charity care policy helped patients whose household income was at or below 144 percent of federal poverty guidelines. Beginning March 1, 2013, the hospital expanded its Charity Care Program to 400 percent of federal poverty guidelines.

With the expansion, a family of four with household earnings of more than $90,000 a year may still qualify for partially free care.

In addition to overseeing the hospital's Charity Care program, the Patient Access to Healthcare Department also provides estimated treatment costs, checks insurance coverage, provides Medicare and Medicaid information and assistance, reviews qualifying funding programs, provides application help, reviews current accounts and sets up payment plans.

"Our job is to advocate for our patients at Humboldt General Hospital," said Chwastek. "We want to be here as a resource for them."

Chwastek initially joined HGH as a Radiology Department scheduler. Her job was to smooth the process between patients' imaging needs and the many insurance, scheduling and other glitches they might encounter in order to get that imaging done.

"It worked so well," said Administrative Director Pam Wickkiser, "that we knew an entire department of like-minded advocates would be very welcome to our patients."

Wickkiser said Chwastek was an easy choice to lead the new Patient Access to Healthcare Department.

"She is very patient-minded, very focused on doing what's right for the individual," said Wickkiser.

"I just can't say enough about her dedication and her drive," she added. "Achieving this certification is just one example of how Theresa leads the way for the rest of us."

As a Certified Healthcare Access Associate, Chwastek had to pass a national certification examination in the field of patient access management.

The 115-question exam covered questions ranging from patients' pre-encounter experience with the hospital, including their customer service experience, customer assessment protocols, resource scheduling of equipment, services and staff and pre-registration.

The body of the test focused on patient and family education, financial considerations, payer authorization and verification of benefits, patient check-in and registration, special needs of patients and benchmarking, among other topics.

Chwastek said the exam was challenging but not overwhelmingly so.

"We have been working on acquiring all these knowledge bases," said Chwastek of herself and the three representatives whom she supervises as team leader.

"So there weren't any surprises on the test. It was just a confirmation that we're working in the right direction."

Chwastek said she is grateful for the chance to take the test; she will now encourage her co-representatives to take the exam as well.

"The more knowledge we have, the more effective we'll be at helping our community residents navigate the healthcare system," she said.

For more information on the Patient Access to Healthcare department or to schedule an appointment, please call (775) 623-5222, ext. 1130, or feel free to drop by anytime Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for a personal consult.