By Danae King, The Columbus Dispatch
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Dr. Michelle Taylor met several Holocaust survivors during her time in a mobile care unit parked at Jewish Family Services recently.
It was her first time meeting curious, sometimes anxious, survivors and answering their questions before they committed to letting her care for them.
“They have a lot of questions about care; they want to know all the specifics,” said Taylor, an attending primary care physician with OhioHealth. “There’s a lot of distrust … With any population, there’s a history of trauma, but specifically this population, the way they interact with health care providers is different.”
Survivors often have anxiety around institutional health care because of their experiences during the Holocaust, when many who were sick or old were killed or tortured by authorities during the World War II genocide in the 1940s.
Taylor said she has learned how to meet patients where they are and gain their trust through a partnership between OhioHealth and Jewish Family Services. She is part of a team of doctors, nurses and other staff members who on Oct. 28 started going to Jewish Family Services’ East Side building from 1 to 4 p.m. every Monday in OhioHealth’s Wellness on Wheels Primary Care mobile unit to treat local Holocaust survivors.
There are 225 known Holocaust survivors living in Columbus, said Garett Ray, director of senior and Holocaust services at Jewish Family Services. Many survivors, who range in age from 75 to 100, have lived longer than their relatives who were killed during the Holocaust. They might not know what aging looks like or should feel like, and they might be afraid to seek health care services due to the trauma they’ve suffered, Ray said.
The partnership between OhioHealth and Jewish Family Services started about a year ago, after Shannon Ginther, senior director of community health partnerships at OhioHealth, heard former Jewish Family Services CEO June Gutterman speak about the work of the nonprofit group. Gutterman and current CEO Karen Mozenter told Ginther that the agency would love to offer on-site health care but hadn’t determined how.
Ginther knew she could help, as OhioHealth has been dispatching mobile units to various populations and parts of the city for more than 20 years.
Soon after the meeting, Jewish Family Services hosted a training session for OhioHealth employees on Holocaust survivors’ unique needs and challenges. The training has been offered for about five years and helps providers understand the trauma that survivors have been through and how to offer care that doesn’t retraumatize them, Ray said.
All the mobile unit’s staff members were trained on what makes someone a Holocaust survivor, what types of trauma survivors experienced, and how their trauma might show itself, Ginther said. Taylor said she learned to be patient with her new patients, as it might take more time than usual for her to build trust with them.
Another barrier to health care is that many local Holocaust survivors live in poverty, Ray said. Many came to the United States in the 1960s, not immediately after the end of World War II in 1945, because they ended up trapped in the former Soviet Union under its Communist government’s control when the Iron Curtain fell, and they went through more trauma by not being able to practice Judaism under dictator Joseph Stalin’s rule, he said.
In contrast, those who came to America immediately after the war had more time to learn English and build careers, Ray said.
Ray hopes the mobile unit will help break down barriers that cause not only survivors, but other seniors as well, to avoid seeing doctors.
While survivors wait to see a doctor, the agency hosts programming on such topics as relaxation techniques and movement. Patients can ask their case manager to accompany them to their appointments. And the agency provides translators for those who don’t speak English proficiently.
The hope is that one day, the mobile unit will also be able to offer trauma-informed care to other vulnerable populations, such as teens aging out of foster care and refugees, he said.
Doctors on the mobile unit see three or four patients by appointment, take walk-ins when able, and are available to answer questions and meet potential patients.
Mark Yudis, 78, arrived at Jewish Family Services to see a doctor promptly at 1 p.m. on a recent Monday. The 78-year-old East Side resident was cheery and watched the providers move around him as he sat on the exam table in the unit’s small exam room.
After receiving a flu shot at the end of his appointment, Yudis shook the hand of every health care provider.
“I got good information today,” he said, smiling.
He was told to come back in a month, and he said he’s glad he saw a doctor.
Providers in the mobile care unit can be the survivors’ primary care provider, Ray said, or they can just supplement care provided by a survivor’s regular doctor.
“This is a safe place for a lot of our Holocaust survivors,” Ray said.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com