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Published on February 28, 2018

Yassin Awale and Robyn Niewenhuis

New Resident Finds Pain Relief, Insurance & New Career through Avera

When Yassin Awale moved to Sioux Falls, South Dakota from Ethiopia three years ago, he brought more than just his belongings. He carried along a debilitating back pain.

“I tolerated the pain for about two years before coming here. It so was painful that I couldn’t walk for a long distance,” he recalled.

After hearing that the Avera Medical Group Health Care Clinic in downtown Sioux Falls accepts patients without insurance, Medicare or Medicaid, Awale scheduled an appointment in hopes of finding pain relief. Little did he know that he would discover so much more.

Compassionate Care for All

“We serve the underserved,” described Robyn Niewenhuis, MSW, CSW, a social worker at the clinic. “And we’re not just here to meet their physical or medical needs. We treat them as a whole person and do our best to help them in all areas of their lives.”

The clinic – which offers scheduled appointments for adults 18 years old and older – has been an important part of downtown Sioux Falls for over 20 years.

“We welcome anyone who comes in the door and do our best to give them the best care,” added Jean Lageson, MD, an internal medicine physician and the medical director at the clinic.

Back on Track to Health & Well-Being

Through Lageson’s expert care, Awale received the diagnosis and referral he needed for spine surgery at Avera McKennan Hospital & University Center. His pain was due to a complicated neurological condition, so the need for surgery was urgent. And even without health insurance, his clinic team was able to make sure he received the care and financial assistance he needed right away.

“If they didn’t do all of that for me, I could have been paralyzed,” said Awale. “It was painful at first, but now I feel no pain. I’m free. I’m able to walk, run and work. Life is good.”

Awale and his wife also enjoy spending time with their five grandchildren. “Living life without pain is lovely. It’s so nice,” he added.

The care Awale received didn’t end there. During open enrollment in 2016, Niewenhuis connected him with a Marketplace navigator who was able to help him find affordable health insurance.

“Having insurance gives me confidence,” he stated. “Robyn really took time to go above and beyond to help me.”

“As a social worker, I play the role of an advocate who can help our patients as they navigate the challenges that often come with health care,” she described. “I’m also able to connect them with community resources such as counseling, housing, food and even addiction resources, if needed.”

Niewenhuis also told him about a job opening for a valet at Avera McKennan. “After telling Yassin about the job, he took the initiative to apply and was hired,” she said. “It’s rewarding to see his success story. To have an outcome where the patient is feeling well and more independent – that’s the goal.”

Avera’s Mission in Action

Lageson and Niewenhuis agree that they enjoy the privilege of not only serving their patients, but seeing the Avera mission in action every day.

“This has been the best job of my career,” said Lageson. “I come to work looking forward to every day.”

“I feel fortunate to be a social worker where Avera’s values – compassion, stewardship and hospitality – are lived out every day,” added Niewenhuis. “Our patients come in for medical care, but receive so much more.”

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Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.

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