Caring for the Generations
By Keith Loria
When she was 12, Emmeline Donis Funes went to Columbia Road Health Services in D.C., and first met with Dr. Rona Schwartz, medical director and a family medicine physician who has been with the clinic going on 15 years, the last seven being part of the Unity family.
Over time, Dr. Schwartz helped Funes deal with her asthma, guided her through puberty and offered general care when she was sick.
Today, 15 years after first walking through those doors, Funes is still treated by Dr. Schwartz, and she also brings all three of her children for care.
“Dr. Schwartz plays such an important part for my family,” the now 28-year-old Funes said. “My youngest daughter had a lot of health problems and she was always there for us and on top of things to make sure she was ok.”
Her other children have received care for everything from an allergic reaction to a sprained ankle to just symptoms associated with the flu.
“She’s always there for us, even if she’s busy and it means staying late, she’ll always make sure my kids are ok,” Funes said.
As a busy mom—Funes goes to school, works and is training to become an EMS—she appreciates that Dr. Schwartz is well versed on so much and can work on different generations of patients.
“I don’t need to run around to different doctors and plan my schedule around that,” she said. “We can all go together and know that we will be taken care of.”
The reason the entire family can be treated together is that Dr. Schwartz practices generational health, meaning she works with people of all ages and treats a wide variety of ailments.
“I do basically primary care for infants through elderly, and cover all ages,” she said. “As a family physician, one of the great things is to follow a patient through all different ages, and Unity really supports family medicine, allowing us to take care of everyone.”
As a physician, Dr. Schwartz feels the generational health approach makes sense because she never gets bored or unfulfilled with her work, whereas someone with a specialty or specific patient population may get wearied.
“It keeps me on my toes, providing a broad spectrum of care and makes my job more interesting,” she said. “I’m not just focusing on high blood pressure, I’m doing a lot of different things.”
By taking care of different generations within one family, it also lets Dr. Schwartz better understand the family dynamics and history.
“I can see a child for a checkup and turn to the mom and ask if she had her flu shot yet, or talk to her about birth control and how she’s taking care of herself,” she said. “And if I know their history, I might better be able to manage some issues.”
Plus, older patients are more likely to get the care they need since they are already in the clinic with their kids and they don’t need to see a different health care practitioner. By being able to talk with parents during children’s visits, Dr. Schwartz also has the opportunity to talk with the parents and grandparents about what they’re doing so they are staying healthy, and can better offer preventive care.
“It’s easier for them, more convenient for them, and helps me be a better provider,” Dr. Schwartz said. “I find that D.C. is very welcoming to family physicians and it’s more sensible in a lot of ways. When you hire a doctor, they can see a lot of patients and not have to worry about who’s off that day, and they also are more likely to treat as much as they can in the office, rather than referring people elsewhere.”
The patient population of Columbia Road Health Services yields a host of different ailments and injuries. For example, on one Monday in September, Dr. Schwartz saw a young child with cold symptoms, a thirtysomething woman with a urine infection, an elderly woman with high blood pressure, and she provided a family planning implant for a 19-year-old. She also treated someone with diabetes and a person who was getting over the effects of a stroke—all this before noon!
“Family physicians are trained to look at the whole person and try to provide primary care and to offer as much as we can,” she said. “We have busy lives and most people would like to go one place rather than three places and Unity providers often work on weekends or evening hours to make it more convenient for people who work.”
Dr. Schwartz, for instance, works Wednesdays evenings and is available to her patients for afterhours care. This is a big plus for many of the immigrants and working moms who come to the clinic.
“I hear from a lot of patients who don’t come in for care because they can’t get off work, and don’t have sick days, but would love to come in,” she said. “Being able to come in with their child at a time after work is a huge help. The ability to get care when you need it and the convenience is so important. Unity helps that happen.”