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Patient experience navigators: A special team for patients

By The Health News Team | July 11, 2024

Some folks need help filing taxes or turn to an attorney for complex legal matters. Others lean on counselors and medical experts when health advice is needed.

So, what if there were also dedicated specialists to help a patient through their health care journey, even just to lend an ear? What if someone — beyond their health care providers —that made sure patients were supported and heard while they’re in the hospital?

Enter Sharp Grossmont Hospital’s patient experience navigators, a specialized team of shoulders to lean on, ears to talk to and voices to be the conduit between patients and the hospital’s medical staff. This dedicated and enthusiastic team of six ensures patients know about and get the resources available to them. They also keep the hospital team abreast of requests and feedback to help them provide the best of care.

Patient navigators come from varied backgrounds. But each draw on experiences in health care, community service and other specialties to strengthen their role.

“We are the connecting bridge between patients and staff to make sure everyone is feeling supported and heard,” says Anthony Cohen, who leads the team at Grossmont. Cohen worked for 9 years as a case manager for Big Brothers Big Sisters, among other roles, and says helping people comes naturally to him.

“Knowing I’m able to brighten someone’s day just a little is a big reward,” says Cohen. “Most patients are scared, some are alone and afraid, and making them comfortable is a great feeling.”

Each morning, the patient experience navigators exchange information with the hospital floor care providers to determine which patients they’ll connect with. On a typical day, a navigator sees 18 or more patients. Cohen says the team focuses on using communication as its most powerful two-way tool.

“If we can help foster that line of communication between the nurse, the doctor and the patient, we can help create a more positive environment for everyone involved,” he says. “We want both our staff and the patient to feel supported with the services we can offer.”

A navigator and his patient

Ernel Alfonso, one of Sharp Grossmont’s patient experience navigators, is a graduate of San Diego State University with a fitting degree: Bachelor of Science in health communication.

“I saw this job opening and was astonished to see how perfectly it aligned with what I wanted to do,” Alfonso says. “This is a unique program that not only helps our patients — whether it’s sitting down to talk with them or just being able to grab them a warm blanket — but also allows us to help our staff as well.”

Alfonso recently helped care for Edward, a patient on Grossmont’s 5 East Unit. Edward had never been in the hospital but was his wife’s caregiver and advocate when she was hospitalized. He recalled how important communication was for him during that time, keeping information straight and doing the legwork to get her a much-needed back surgery.

With the shoe on the other foot as a patient, he praised Alfonso’s work, saying he made sure Edward understood everything that was happening. If Edward had any questions, Alfonso would get the answer for him.

“This was so important,” Edward says. "Ernel being able to answer my questions helped ease my anxiety and fear of the unknown. There are a lot of medical terms, and it is easy to get lost in these conversations sometimes. So having someone ask and reassure that I understood everything really helped. Ernel’s role is extremely important, and these people have a positive impact on a patient’s health journey.”

A nurse’s appreciation

Allison Ferguson is the nurse manager for Sharp Grossmont’s 2 East Unit, where patient experience navigator Mitch Miranda strives to make patients’ stays the best they can be. Ferguson’s team works closely with Miranda and together, they use their specialties and skills to help provide exceptional experiences.

Ferguson says Miranda is able to sit and talk with her patients to put them at ease during challenging times. He also helps the nursing staff, frequently checking in to provide assistance whenever they could use a helping hand.

“This position is a must in a very fast-paced nursing unit,” says Ferguson. “We have patients who find out they have cancer and a poor prognosis, and Mitch is able to provide the additional emotional support to them in life-changing moments.”

Those bonds formed can be strong and personal. Miranda was recently invited to visit an end-of-life patient at their home after being discharged from the hospital. “He develops a rapport and establishes trust, and that’s an example of the bond that is created,” says Ferguson.

A navigator “draws” on her creativity

Navigator Rachel Carry has been in her position since October 2021. With a degree in public health, she worked in nonprofit marketing before coming to Sharp Grossmont.

“I’ve always wanted to somehow work with patients, so this position was a golden find for me,” Carry says. “It allows me to extend my kindness — even be creative — and to feel like I’m making a difference.”

Carry remembers a patient who created art during his stay to keep his mind off his illness,” says Carry. “He looked forward to me coming in with a new theme to draw — fruit, flowers, whatever it was that day. Little did I know, he was a really good artist!”

Carry drew with the patient twice a day and now keeps some of his artwork at her desk to inspire her to help patients in creative ways. She didn’t get to say goodbye, but the patient did in his own unique way.

“He was discharged on a day when I was off, but he left all of his drawings and took all of mine,” Carry says. The patient also left her a note that said, “They cut me loose. Sorry I didn’t get a chance to say bye — but thank you for drawing with me.”

“He shared with me that his only friend was his mom, and that I was probably his second friend as of recent,” says Carry. “Well, I’m happy to be anyone’s friend while they’re here.”

Watch the video above to learn about the essential role patient experience navigators play at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

Ernel Alfonso

Ernel Alfonso


Ernel Alfonso is a patient experience navigator at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

Anthony Cohen

Anthony Cohen


Anthony Cohen is a lead patient experience navigator at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

Stephanie Coyle

Stephanie Coyle


Stephanie Coyle is a patient experience navigator at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

Adrian Solis

Adrian Solis


Adrian Solis is a patient experience navigator at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

Rachel Carry

Rachel Carry


Rachel Carry is a patient experience navigator at Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

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