(December 2, 2013)

When Maryam Qayumi started working for Chase Brexton Health Services in Columbia in August 2012, the center didn't have a specific employee dedicated to managing the new patients who walk through its doors every day in search of health care options.

Social workers at the center already had their hands full with existing patients. "All the other case managers were spread so thin," she said.

So Qayumi was tasked with figuring out a way to streamline what could feel like the overwhelming process of identifying and working to solve the health care issues of a host of people, each with their own complex backgrounds and needs.

By the end of her nearly one year at Chase Brexton, Qayumi was the point person for new patients at the center. When she left in July 2013, she had enrolled 586 clients in health insurance and sliding fee scale assistance programs.


Sign up to receive our free daily email newsletter: Columbia Today

Last month, the Oakland Mills graduate was recognized for her efforts with a Governor's Service Award, bestowed by the office of Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley.

The award, given this year to 27 volunteers from across the state out of a pool of 156 applicants, recognizes Marylanders who make "significant volunteer contributions to the life and health of this state and its people."

"As we continue to navigate through these tough times, the support we get from volunteers and community organizations across our state remains strong," O'Malley said in a statement. "These dedicated individuals and groups help to strengthen our cities and towns by responding to our neighbors in need."

Qayumi came to Chase Brexton through the Maryland Community HealthCorps, an AmeriCorps program that places young volunteers in community-based health centers across the state. The May 2012 graduate from the University of Maryland, College Park, started working at the health center just three months after finishing school.

She joined Chase Brexton's education and outreach department, where she was responsible for helping new patients figure out what programs they were eligible for.

Qayumi came up with a script to run through with newly arrived patients, to help find the answers to questions like what their biggest concerns were and what they saw as their biggest barriers to getting treatment. She would then work with the patient to set up a priority list mapping out, goal by goal, their path to health care.

"I learned a lot about what I can do for patients," she said of the experience. "There's so much you want to do for them, but it's all based on the resources available. Sometimes my hands were tied. It taught me a lot about hearing their story and trying to tackle one barrier at a time to make sure they're healthy."

Qayumi said one of Howard County's biggest challenges was finding care for patients who are undocumented immigrants. Because they are not eligible for government aid, case workers have to connect them with separate programs.

She also helped with a partnership between Chase Brexton and the emergency room at Howard County General Hospital, which brought in Chase Brexton workers to talk with uninsured ER patients about their health care options.

Qayumi was heartened by some of the success stories to come out of that program: "There were patients from the ER who were homeless and I found out at the end of 11 months that some of them were working again and had health insurance."

But in a job where more than a thousand prospective new clients walked through the door over the course of a year, there were bound to be disappointments, too.

"On the other side of the coin it's really difficult, because a lot of patients you try so hard with but if they're not doing their part [it doesn't work out]," she said. "It's definitely a balance, because you see so many people."

Qayumi's supervisor at Chase Brexton, Kelly Kromm, said the center wouldn't have been able to see as many people as it did without her.

"Our case management department would simply not be where it is today without the leadership and strategic thinking provided by Maryam during her year of service in Community HealthCorps," Kromm said.

Now in her first year of dental school at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, Qayumi said she hopes to work to build bridges between dental and general health care.

"Often patients and providers don't realize that your dental health is integral to your general health," she said. "I'd love to be a community health provider and meld medical and dental work together."