NHCW Health Care Hero: Whitney Berry

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Sometimes it takes a few steps off the path to find one’s way forward. It’s a lesson that Whitney Berry is grateful to have learned, and one that helps her empathize with the patients she sees each day when she comes into work.

Whitney is the clinic coordinator for Central City Concern’s (CCC) Old Town Clinic (OTC), a position that, until just a few years ago, she didn’t know existed. Yet, in retrospect, many of her experiences, instincts and preferences point to exactly the place she finds herself in now.

Growing up, what Whitney did know was that she wanted to work with people. The allure of intersecting with a limitless universe of stories and personalities and journeys was too much for her to imagine anything else.

The allure of intersecting with a limitless universe of stories and personalities and journeys was too much for her to imagine anything else.

“I think people are just so fascinating. We all have something to bring to the table, and I love learning about what the something is,” she says.

Whitney initially pursued a future in nursing, but realized that it wasn’t the right avenue for her to work with people. Instead, she earned a degree in family and human services, which introduced her to ways of working with her community that deeply resonated with her values of helping those in need. Her brief time in a nursing program was the detour she needed to unearth a bit more of the path she was making for herself.

Her route to CCC was similarly winding. She worked with youth with behavioral hardships, then tried out office work with a retail business. During the latter, she unexpectedly found a knack for administrative work, but found herself missing interaction with others more than ever before.

CCC had always been in Whitney’s periphery. Her father has served on the board for many years, and a family member found stability through CCC’s addiction treatment services. Without any clinical credentials, Whitney didn’t consider the possibility of working with the population CCC serves. But when she found out about the clinic coordinator opportunity, she knew that it was a prime opportunity.

“It was a combination of working in health care, administrative duties, and meeting all sorts of people,” Whitney says. “I also felt the need to give back to the place that changed the life of my family member who went through CCC’s services.”

Since arriving as the clinic coordinator, Whitney has become a crucial staff member whose work behind the scenes as a do-everything, know-everything resource “greases the wheels of Old Town Clinic,” as one colleague describes.

When new employees start at Old Town Clinic, Whitney becomes their guide, helping them find their place in the bustling operation that sees more than 20,000 visits each year. When the clinic needs to coordinate access with local hospitals, Whitney is likely on the phone making that happen. When the clinic’s care teams identify a new way to help patients, they’ll often call on Whitney to help execute their idea.

“Everyone in the clinic has their own work, so I fill in gaps so they don’t necessarily have to worry about connecting the dots,” Whitney says. “No matter which clinic staff I’m helping, I’m helping someone who cares for our patients. And by helping them, I’m part of lowering the barrier to receiving care at OTC.”

“No matter which clinic staff I’m helping, I’m helping someone who cares for our patients. And by helping them, I’m part of lowering the barrier to receiving care at OTC.”

Several times a month, Whitney also meets one-on-one with prospective patients as part of a new Old Town Clinic initiative to provide same-day intake appointments, allowing patients to meet with a provider much sooner. Before the initiative, a patient waited an average of 14 days for an intake appointment. With Whitney’s willingness to step in and draw from her passion for hearing people’s stories, the average wait is now effectively zero days.

“In the past, people came in to OTC and realized they had to schedule two weeks out. They went through a rollercoaster of emotions,” she says. “That they can get in with an intake and potentially be seen even that day is amazing.”

Though the majority of her days is spent making sure the needs of clinic staff are met, Whitney absolutely shines in this role. The opportunities to meet directly with patients affirm for Whitney that her path, indirect as it’s been, has led her to where she wants—and needs—to be.

“Being the clinic coordinator has pushed me to want to work with our population even more. Seeing what I’ve seen and hearing what I’ve heard, I can tell people that this is not the end.”