They are the first to greet patients who enter Spectrum Health hospitals and they’re often the last ones to see them off, always with warm wishes for a bright, new day.
The five Spectrum Health team members featured here bring unique touches to their essential roles.
They also make up a cherished team of patient service representatives at Spectrum Health hospitals and clinics—all working together to make a difference in your care.
It’s like coming full circle: born at Spectrum Health, working at Spectrum Health.
Daleesa Williams entered this world by way of Spectrum Health Blodgett Hospital. Today she works as a patient service representative there, registering patients and conducting pre-operation assessments.
But that’s not all. Lately, the job has evolved.
“COVID-19 came on so fast,” Williams said. “And as it did, I went wherever I was needed. It’s been a challenge, but I had a choice to make: Embrace the challenge or run from it.”
She embraced it.
She takes time to comfort patients who might feel unease amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
She has shown up each day and put on her mask, diligently washing her hands and following the guidelines designed to help avoid the spread of germs.
Before every shift, she has filled out a questionnaire of health questions. She follows the same safety guidelines as every person who comes through the hospital’s doors.
And she has been indispensable every step of the way.
When the emergency department experienced an overflow, Williams went to work there.
When tents for COVID-19 testing went up outside Blodgett Hospital, Williams went to work there, too.
When outpatient services put out the call for help, Williams showed up.
It’s now her second year working at Spectrum Health. With bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business management, she’s been eager to learn about every aspect of work at the hospital.
“Everyone is starting to get used to this new routine, patients and staff,” she said. “This is where I wanted to be. Wherever I see a need, I plant myself.”
Help sometimes comes from the most unexpected places.
As a financial counselor covering Spectrum Health hospitals in Holland, Hudsonville and Zeeland, Jesus Cerda-Celedon isn’t always welcomed by patients at first blush.
His specialty is helping people with their medical bills, which can be a complicated and sometimes intimidating part of the health care journey for many patients.
Cerda-Celedon remembers trying to help one patient in particular. She had suffered an injury that would require physical therapy, but she encountered difficulties with her health insurance.
Her medical bills began to mount.
Cerda-Celedon tried repeatedly to reach the patient by phone.
He left voicemail after voicemail.
“She finally answered,” Cerda-Celedon said. “So I asked a lot of questions.”
He learned her injury led to the loss of her job. The patient had also been waiting for her financial assistance to pay her bills. With a medical bill and just a few hundred dollars left in her bank account, the patient had become overwhelmed.
Armed with that knowledge, Cerda-Celedon got to work.
He helped her apply for Medicaid while awaiting insurance. He helped her sort out her bill with the hospital.
In the end, it worked out.
“Usually I just get a voicemail of thanks when I can do something like this for someone,” Cerda-Celedon said. “They might come by to say ‘thank you’ that I’ve lifted a great weight from their shoulders.”
But this patient went further.
“(She) wrote me a very nice letter,” he said. “That was a first for me.”
As a first-generation child of immigrants from Mexico, Cerda-Celedon understands all too well the stresses and worries of those who live paycheck to paycheck.
“I think about that—and how much it helps to get some financial help,” he said. “And I know I’m making a difference. I love helping others.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly presented its share of challenges—but even those have led to smart solutions.
Amanda Perales, a patient access supervisor at Spectrum Health Zeeland Community Hospital, has found new and improved ways of helping patients amid the pandemic.
“Changes came fast with COVID-19,” Perales said. “And we would never know what the next executive order would have us do. So it’s been a time of thinking outside the box. It’s been challenging but also fun to hear the ideas flow from our staff over our many meetings.”
The preservation of patient trust has been of paramount importance.
“We may have to come up with new ways of doing things,” Perales said, “but making sure everyone trusts that we are keeping them safe when they come here is our top priority.”
Perales has worked as a patient access supervisor for a few months, following a previous post as interim supervisor for inpatient services at Spectrum Health Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center. She has worked for Spectrum Health since 2014.
In processing patient information, Perales and her team have gotten creative.
“We now have remote teams working off-site,” she said. “We do e-check-ins, over the phone and by text. We get down all that necessary information—names, addresses, insurance, medical history—prior to a patient coming in. And we’ve found that doing things this way has actually been a better way.”
With patient data submitted long before someone arrives at the hospital, team members have been freed up to deliver a warm welcome and engage in conversation that puts patients at ease.
“It gives us time for real conversations,” Perales said. “Getting information ahead is a timesaver. So it’s something from our new routine that I think we may keep.”
Through it all, Perales said she has gained more confidence in her work.
“This has been a situation that has pushed me to get out there and find my voice,” she said. “For many years, I was a stay-at-home mom with four kids. I worked in retail before this. When I returned to work after my kids were grown, I found a new community.”
After 20 years in patient access services, Dorothy Johnson has learned the best way to handle change: Laugh and smile.
“Well, not at first,” she said, laughing already. “Sometimes I worry when I hear about another change coming—mostly in technology, the systems we use. But then we learn it and once again I see an improvement. Each change makes us better.”
Working in radiology registration at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, Johnson processes patient information and directs patients and their families to wherever they need to go.
“Many of my patients come here needing to see more than one doctor,” Johnson said. “Many are cancer patients and they may need to go from one area to another. They are often stressed—and I try to take away some of that stress.”
Happiness is contagious. Laughter is catchy.
Johnson knows this.
She lets her laughter fill the room, hearty and heartfelt.
It’s like a beacon—patients tend to seek her out when they need help.
“I’m a people person,” Johnson smiled. “I love helping. It’s like a family here and I love my job. I can still remember my job interview here. It felt like I had found home. I try to treat people as I would want to be treated.”
Johnson tells her story of coming to Michigan and finding her calling. Her life experiences have shaped her ability to treat others with kindness and respect.
“I grew up in Mississippi,” she said. “I came north to Michigan after my older sister came here, after I finished high school and I went to Grand Rapids Community College.”
She earned a certification in computer programming.
To this day, she remembers the experiences of her youth.
“I experienced a lot of racism in Mississippi and I never forgot that,” she said. “You can’t carry hatred in your heart. I try to always keep humor in my heart—and I pass it along to patients I meet.
“They are under a lot of stress,” she said. “And I try to take some of that away.”
It’s 6:14 a.m.
At Spectrum Health West Pavilion, it’s dark.
At 6:15 a.m., the lights come on.
They flicker one one by one, pools of light spilling up and down the hallways, across desks and waiting room seats.
Tara Timmerman has arrived.
For the past eight years, this patient access service representative has been lighting the morning lights at West Pavilion.
Every morning by 6:35 a.m., she has every door unlocked and the coffee brewing for first arrivals.
As she tells it, she gets everyone “moving and grooving.”
“Sometimes I’m alone here until 7:30 a.m. and I’m the first person patients see when they come in,” Timmerman said. “Some of these patients, they have gotten some very serious news. Perhaps they have cancer or something else that’s hard to handle.
“What they need—they need a smile.”
And Timmerman always has one ready.
That’s because she’s walked a mile in their shoes.
“In January 2013 I lost my only brother,” Timmerman said. “I was pregnant at the time. And my husband had just lost his job. It was a bad day, a bad year. I came into work and a patient told me: ‘Laugh first. You’ll see, the rest of the day after that will get better.’”
Timmerman hasn’t forgotten that patient’s advice.
Now she always laughs first and, indeed, the laughter starts to feel natural. It sets the tone for the day. Even during a pandemic.
Her toughest year, 2013, ended with the birth of her daughter. She gave her little girl her brother’s name as her middle name: Christopher.
The COVID-19 pandemic has made for a particularly challenging environment. When patients arrive without a mask, Timmerman has to hand them one.
For patient and team member safety, everyone wears a mask.
It’s not always easy for patients. They’re stressed.
“It’s not an easy time for anyone, now more than ever,” Timmerman said. “But I try to help every person and keep a positive attitude.”
She sets a sterling example, wearing her mask during her entire 10-hour workday.
And she never skips a beat on behalf of our patients. One recent day, Timmerman and her team facilitated 487 doctor appointments and more than 300 lab reports. On an average day they usually help patients through 380 appointments.
Through it all, she has never lost her smile.
Because she knows that tough times can always turn around.