Heather Bell, MD, Family Medicine, CHI St. Gabriel’s Health

Healther Bell, MDJanuary 2020

1. Why is being an advocate so important to you? - Being an advocate is really what being a physician is all about. My mom, who died when I was in high school, was a single mom and a nurse. She made our home handicap accessible so all of her patients were able to visit. Then when I was an emancipated minor I lived firsthand what it meant to not have and to need and to rely on services and to seemingly have to work harder than my peers. Going into medicine has enabled me to be that voice for patients who otherwise don’t have one or who don’t have the resources to get their voices heard. When I can see the positive impact that our (opioid) program has made across our state and hear the stories of patients, it just strengthens the drive and the passion that led me to be a family physician able to care for whole families and communities.

2. What health-care related issue(s) have you advocated for over the past year? Throughout the last nearly 5 years, but especially in the last year, myself and my colleague, Dr. Kurt DeVine, have continued to advocate for appropriate opioid prescribing programs as well as the expansion of medication assisted treatment accessibility throughout all of Minnesota, primarily in the vastly underserved rural communities where access previously was nonexistent. Our opioid pilot project, facilitated through MDH, helped several of the highest prescribing counties in Minnesota see the greatest improvements in these measures. We have also mentored roughly 40  newly waivered (buprenorphine) providers in primary care in greater MN whom are now caring for nearly 300 additional patients with opioid use disorder who otherwise did not have access to treatment. This mentoring took place with the opioid pilot program as well as our very successful opioid and addiction ProjectECHO (facilitated through DHS) that will be starting its third year this January. Ongoing advocacy to continue these programs and continue to expand into the medical school and physician assistant programs, as well as coordinating with the DHS opioid prescribing report cards, will continue our state’s positive shift in the opioid (and addiction) epidemic!

3. What advice would you offer to others who are interested in advocacy? My advice to others interested in advocacy is to simply remember why you went into medicine in the first place. If there are issues or roadblocks or concerns that arise in your daily practice of patients,  being able to advocate for them and make positive changes really is what the practice of medicine is all about. Going to work each day and seeing the joy and the appreciation and the positive impact on patients’ lives, improves joy of practice and it cuts back on stress and burnout.