Stop, Collaborate, and Listen!

One of the most impactful things that I have taken away from my year of service with the Pittsburgh National Health Corps at the Birmingham Clinic is the importance and effectiveness of collaboration and interprofessional teamwork in providing competent and compassionate healthcare to patients. I witness incredible teamwork at my service site everyday. Nurses, physical therapists, physicians, social workers, occupational therapists, medical assistants, and pharmacists all work together to provide the best possible care to any patient that walks through our doors. Every healthcare profession has something unique and necessary to bring to the table.

A couple of weekends ago, I witnessed another type of collaboration within the healthcare field. I had the wonderful opportunity to attend the Free Clinic Association of Pennsylvania’s (FCAP) annual conference in Harrisburg. One of the more notable conversations was centered around pain management without the use of opioids. The opioid crisis is a major healthcare challenge across the country, especially within the uninsured population. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a major non-partisan healthcare non-profit organization, 1 in 5 nonelderly adults with opioid addiction is uninsured. It is especially important for healthcare professionals serving uninsured patients to brainstorm creative ways to provide care for patients with chronic pain that does not involve the use of opioids (Zur 2017). Chronic pain is something that can be managed in a variety of different ways apart from opioids. Some clinics have more experience than others, and it is the responsibility of those clinics to ensure they pass along the knowledge and expertise to other providers.

Like many other free clinics across the states, it is the policy of the Birmingham Clinic not to prescribe any controlled substances or opioids. We have to be much more creative and holistic when it comes to helping patients manage chronic pain. Things like physical therapy and occupational therapy have proven to help a large number of our patients, however, there are many ways in which we can improve how we care for our patients with chronic pain. At the FCAP conference, I learned about how a clinic outside of Philadelphia uses a specific screening tool to catch patients with chronic pain and to assess their condition. Another clinic from across the state talked about how they integrated behavioral and mental health care with pain management in order to provide more holistic, all-encompassing care for the patient. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, over half of uninsured nonelderly adults with opioid addiction had a mental illness in the past year and over 1 in 5 had a serious mental illness, such as depression, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia (Zur 2017). These are initiatives and ideas that can now be incorporated into the workflow at the Birmingham Clinic.

Open communication, teamwork, and collaboration is not only vital for effective work within a healthcare team treating a patient, but within a network of different clinics and providers serving a similar population. Discussions and think-tank sessions like those that I witnessed at the FCAP conference were not only inspiring, but effective. Challenges within healthcare are often complex, with many variables to consider. Share your ideas with your peers. Learn from one another. Incorporate something new to your clinic or organization so that an even greater number of people can be served.



Zur, Julia. “6 Things to Know About Uninsured Adults with Opioid Addiction.” The Henry J. Kaiser Family  Foundation, The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, 12 Sept. 2017,


This post was written by NPHC member Jack Hayes.

Jack serves at Birmingham Free Clinic as a Patient Navigator.