While the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic saw many safely tucked away in their homes, Katie Johnston was on the frontlines. Johnston, director of nursing at HealthLinc, was suited up and in her community trying to protect La Porte. After spending her time traveling between HealthLinc’s clinical sites, being able to support La Porte helped her connect with the community.
“I got to be out in the community, meeting people just through COVID testing and educating them,” said Johnston. “I was trying to help them with learning how to social distance and how to take care of their elderly family while social distancing.”
Johnston began her career with HealthLinc five years ago. After graduating from Purdue University with her bachelor’s and Chamberlain University College of Nursing with her master’s, Johnston began her career as a labor and delivery nurse before transitioning into community health, which turned out to be quite the shift.
“It was completely out of anything I had ever done. It was quite a learning curve for me, but I wanted to do what I call the real deal of taking care of people,” said Johnston. “I don't think there should be any disparity in who sees what kind of provider. It touched my heart from the moment I learned about it, and I had to be a part of it.”
HealthLinc is a federally qualified health center with several locations throughout the Region. Because HealthLinc is a nonprofit organization that runs completely on grants, it is able to provide comprehensive primary and preventative care to patients using a sliding fee to ensure it is always affordable. Johnston began working with HealthLinc in 2017 as the director of nursing.
“We take care of all people regardless of their ability to pay,” she said. “We take care of patients from the age of zero to 100. I really get to be at the forefront of bringing new services to these patients that may not have had access to them otherwise. We were one of the first places in the area to do COVID testing, and then one of the first places to offer COVID vaccines and at home tests. It's just a very rewarding position for me.”
Johnston feels that HealthLinc’s dedication to providing high-quality care matches her own.
“I don't want to just bring care. I don't want to just put up a clinic in a neighborhood and have patients come. I want to bring the best care because I think no matter what your walk in life is, you deserve to have the very best,” said Johnston.
A large part of community healthcare is connecting people with resources they may not have otherwise found on their own. Johnston understands that even the best primary care in the world won’t be effective if the patient doesn’t have a safe place to sleep or the means to eat. That’s why she believes HealthLinc’s community health workers are an important part of the process.
“You might be coming in for something medical, but if you’re suffering from homelessness, or you've just lost a job, it's going to affect your health. Our community health workers can help link you to resources in your community that can help you with those other issues,” Johnston said. “We want to make sure we can help you with those things as well. I love it.”
Outside of her work with HealthLinc, Johnston also works with the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte fighting to bring down the fetal mortality rate in La Porte County. Its current project, Safe Sleep, is a campaign providing information and resources to parents that may not know the safest ways for their baby to sleep.
“A lot of times, awareness is the first step in helping to face these issues,” Johnston said. “We just need to provide some education. Sometimes, it's helping people get access to things like free cribs and free Pack ‘n’ Plays so they have a place for the baby to sleep. Maybe they have a crib at home, but grandma and grandpa watch the baby and they don't have one at their house, so let's help them get the resources that they need to have a safe place for the baby to sleep when it's there.”
Johnston’s work within the community, especially throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, helped her connect with La Porte in ways she hadn’t before.
“I really got to know the community as a whole by being out in these different organizations that people go to try to bring them wellness and give them a sense of security,” said Johnston. “I really got the feeling of being in the community in La Porte County.”
When she’s not busy providing healthcare to La Porte, Johnston likes to spend time with her children riding horses or volunteering at their school. She enjoys seeing the effort La Porte puts into growing and improving, and believes that the community will continue to grow as it continues to become closer.
“As we all work together, things will improve," she said.
For more information on HealthLinc and the services it provides, visit healthlincchc.org/
For more information about the Healthcare Foundation of La Porte and tits projects, visit hflaporte.org/