By Gray Gailey
It takes a village. That is especially true at Island Primary Care-Orcas (IPC). Doctors, administrators, nurses, and front desk staff work hand in hand to keep the clinic operating smoothly and sustainably. Joy Cartisser and Jeiri Velazquez are the gatekeepers of scheduling and patient coordination, and the first faces you will see upon a visit to IPC. Cartisser has been at Island Primary Care-Orcas since its opening in 2021 and is the lead patient appointment coordinator. Prior to that, she worked with Dr. Shinstrom for five years and in hospitality for ten. She also received her certification as a nursing assistant, which enables her to better understand the needs of the clinic physicians and nurses and helps her run the Front Desk at IPC.
Before applying for a job with Island Primary Care, Velazquez worked as a housekeeper for years, before moving to the clinic in hopes of being able to support and uplift her community. She has been a patient appointment coordinator for a year and a half at the clinic. In Cartisser’s words, Velazquez is “a good, solid rock” who she can count on to assist with critical tasks. Together, Cartisser and Velazquez take care of a range of patient needs, returning dozens of calls a day, greeting patients and checking them in, making sure all of the information on file is correct, tracking down documents that are needed for specific appointments, scheduling follow-up appointments, and tackling clerical work so that the clinic’s health care providers are able to focus on the medical side of the practice.
What is your favorite thing about your job?
Cartisser: Definitely the patients. One of the best things about working on the island is that most faces we see are friendly faces. Patients show their gratitude by bringing our team treats. We’ve had baklava, cookies, wild-caught tuna, and charcuterie boards… It always feels good to be appreciated and to know that patients are happy to see us, too.
Velazquez: I appreciate my co-workers at the clinic. I love this team. We share a lot of laughter and there is genuine care for each other and the patients we see.
What are your biggest challenges?
Cartisser: Being a small clinic on an island means staffing is always a challenge. In order to keep the clinic running smoothly, employees often wear multiple hats. I’m usually dashing back and forth from the front desk checking patients in and out to the x-ray room to take X-rays, often leaving Jeiri alone up front. The other major problem, unfortunately, is how we are treated by some of our patients. Many folks tend to get abrasive when they do not receive the answers they were hoping for. We have received training in conflict resolution but the environment can still be overwhelming for new hires. I always make sure to explain to them that when a patient acts out, they are probably just scared and it is important we remember not to take it personally, especially when a patient is yelling or complaining. What patients may not understand is that specialists can be booked out months in advance, labs take time, and any change in the schedule of the providers can create an array of conflicts. Most people assume that because we live in a small community, people would treat each other with respect, but during Covid-19, we noticed patients became less patient and sometimes aggressive.
Velazquez: Patients can get pretty frustrated by wait times, and can sometimes take it out on us. People have yelled, screamed obscenities, and a few times during COVID, patients threw stuff at the plexiglass partition between us. The clinic has put things in place for our safety, a call button to alert our manager that we need help, and a chat system with the nurses and providers to help gauge the severity of a patient’s temperament. Some people struggle to understand that we are just people trying to get them taken care of.
Anything new at the clinic that excites you?
Cartisser: There is a lot of new technology being implemented at Island Primary Care. One of the most exciting is a tablet that translates information for patients and providers in 35 different languages. There is the option for translation by speaker phone or via video call—which will be really helpful when we need American Sign Language translation. The clinical support staff love it! In addition, the clinic has found ways to speed up certain processes; the digital X-ray machine can send X-rays off the island and get results in a few hours. And, our new online system allows providers and nurses to access patient’s files, chart notes, and more all from one place. We are now using text messaging to remind patients of appointment times. The patient portal is a terrific tool for patients to see test results. Several of the new Medical Assistants have become proficient in phlebotomy (blood draws), This has taken the pressure off of our sole phlebotomist schedule so we can now get patients in for blood draws quicker than we could before. These new additions can speed things up for the patients and lighten the load for our employees. Best of all, these changes mean better healthcare and more convenience for our islanders.