Linda Bonesteel retires from Tidelands Health after bringing community, health system together
Seven years ago, Linda Bonesteel arrived at Tidelands Health with a laptop and a very important mission.
The new director of community health resources set out to create a strategy for the health system to help uninsured and underinsured adults have access to health care – a critical need in a region with high rates of poverty and chronic conditions such as diabetes.
Starting from scratch, she charted an organizational structure, hired a talented team and created the Tidelands Community Care Network, which boasts about 25 community partners representing a diverse group of agencies.
But her impact has gone way beyond what anyone ever imagined. She’s redefined the concept of community and how Tidelands Health fits into it.
“We are a different organization because of her,” said Rick Kaylor, senior vice president of system development. “She has made us a lot more sensitive to the community. We look at our responsibility to the community a little bit different than we did before. She’s influenced us to be a lot more responsible, sensitive to all the needs of the community. She’s been extraordinary.”
Now, with the foundation for the health system’s community network off the ground and initial successes logged, Bonesteel, 60, is moving on to her next role: a retiree doting on her three grandkids. The Goose Creek resident – who spends nearly three hours commuting back and forth to Georgetown every day – is eager to have more time to spend with her grandchildren: Aubrey, 6, Finn, 2, and Lyla, who is only a month old.
“I want to make sure I have time to be with them,” Bonesteel said. “I think there has been a very good foundation laid with the Tidelands Community Care Network.”
Bonesteel has already hired and been working with her successor, Kelly Kaminski, who was most recently regional coordinator and director of disaster services for Catholic Charities of South Carolina – and one of the agency partners in the Tidelands Community Care Network. Bonesteel said Kaminski shares many of Bonesteel’s traits - most notably a passion for helping people who need it the most.
"Linda has fundamentally changed our community and positively influenced the trajectory of health and wellness throughout the region," said Bruce Bailey, president and CEO of Tidelands Health. “Through her successful efforts to unite community partners around the shared goal of better health, the strengths of each organization have been magnified and we’ve achieved a tremendous collective impact not possible by any single organization acting alone.”
The early days
In 2011, Tidelands Health received a grant from The Duke Endowment to create a strategy to help uninsured and underinsured residents have access to medical care.
“Back then it was just an initiative,” said Kaylor, who was charged with hiring the person to make it happen. “We were just trying to get it off the ground. We had a vision of what we wanted, and I knew it was going to require a special person to do that.
“The first few minutes I met Linda, I knew she was pretty special. She had experience, and you just knew she had a huge heart and a desire to do great things. We stopped talking to other candidates after that. We knew Linda was it.”
Bonesteel had spent her career in her native New York, including at Catholic Charities and Seton Health-St. Mary’s Hospital in Troy, New York. The challenge of creating the network at Tidelands Health inspired her.
She quickly jumped in, starting with just a laptop and a desire to understand the needs in the community and the barriers to health care. With her collaborative spirit and caring nature, she met with community leaders and agencies – winning over each one to participate in this new venture.
“I don’t ever believe I have the answers,” Bonesteel said. “I think we, as a community, can work to come up with the answers.”
Carla Wham, community health manager at Tidelands Health, remembers working alongside Bonesteel in those early days, tucked in a small office in an old house across from Tidelands Georgetown Memorial Hospital – the first of four locations Bonesteel would call her office.
“She came in and was so quiet and so humble,” Wham said. “But she would spend so much time in the community. I’ve just always admired the way she came in under the radar and focused on the community and was able to bring the health system and community together.”
Bonesteel was simply doing what she’s meant to do. She wanted to broaden the view of what providing health care meant in the community. The solution wasn’t simply offering health care to those who need it. It was understanding – and finding solutions – for the barriers getting in the way of accessing that care – whether it’s transportation to medical appointments, substandard living conditions or lack of employment.
“That’s what we really wanted to focus on,” Bonesteel said. “What we didn’t have was care coordination.”
For example, a patient who had a colostomy continued to show up in the medical office with infections. Turns out, the resident lived in a mobile home with no stove and no hot water – and no way to properly clean the area. He also didn’t have the proper supplies and didn’t fully understand care instructions because they weren’t given in his native language. After a visit from one of the network’s care coordinators who identified the issues, he was put on a path to better living conditions and better health.
“We were not always getting the full understanding of what creates the gaps,” Bonesteel said. “We really began to highlight what the barriers are.”
Her research brought a new level of awareness to Tidelands Health and its approach in the community, Kaylor said.
“She got people looking at our role – what was Tidelands Health’s role in the community,” he said. “It was a different approach – looking at it from a more holistic approach.”
Bonesteel has taken the effort beyond Kaylor’s expectations. A few statistics:
- For uninsured, low-income residents with chronic conditions, emergency department visits declined by 32 percent within 24 months of enrollment in the Tidelands Community Care Network – showing that people are getting the right care at the right time.
- For uninsured, low-income residents with chronic conditions, inpatient stays fell by 37 percent within 24 months of enrollment in the network – showing that chronic conditions are being better managed.
- Programs through Community Health Resources have provided care coordination for more than 8,000 people since 2012 and reached even more through community education and events.
Though impressive, the stats don’t tell the whole story, said Lexie Johnson, project and data manager at Community Health Resources who has worked with Bonesteel for six years.
“It is hard to quantify the impact that Linda has had on our community,” Johnson said. “She is a servant-leader who has committed her life to advocating for the underserved. One of the greatest impacts of Linda’s work has been her participation and leadership in community collaborations.”
Some of the partner agencies that Bonesteel has recruited to the network can’t say enough about her contributions to the community. Some of the leaders say they initially attended the first meeting years ago just to hear about this new network, but her enthusiasm, commitment and caring nature convinced them to keep coming back.
“She’s one of the first people I met when I came to Georgetown,” said Tim Scott, corps officer for the Salvation Army. “Just a fabulous person and resource for Georgetown. Just last week, she walked me through trying to get a young lady some help. Linda was just unbelievably helpful in helping me put the pieces together.
“Her knowledge was superior, and she didn’t mind stopping what she was doing to walk me through it. We are greatly going to miss her.”
Bonesteel’s team members at Community Health Resources have not only learned from her but have also enjoyed watching the impact they are having on the community.
After identifying barriers to accessing health care, the team has brought in evidence-based programs to address them. Bonesteel’s team started the Diabetes Prevention Program and palliative care and worked with partner agencies to start the Triple P parenting program, among many others.
“It’s just been so much fun to be able to initiate and see the progress and impact it’s had on the community,” Wham said. “She has been able to do things I don’t think anybody else could have. She’s been able to open the walls of the hospital.”
Bonesteel’s team has grown to nearly 30 employee partners. And the Tidelands Health Community Resource Center has landed in a high-profile spot in the heart of the community it serves – in the former post office building on Highmarket Street in Georgetown.
“That’s been one of the gifts of the Tidelands Community Care Network. We’ve been able to work outside the walls of the hospital,” Bonesteel said. “It’s not just inside the walls of the hospital when someone is sick.”
Bonesteel brought the expertise and social skills to bring on community partners under this new network model.
“She has helped to build a program that is a legacy,” said Monica Grey, associate vice president of transitional care who has supervised Bonesteel for the past six years. “The relationships she has built with our community partners have been critical.
“It’s not just Tidelands Health making a difference. It’s about all of us working together.”
Kaylor credits the success to Bonesteel’s special combination of experience and a caring heart. She has a fierce desire to fight for those who need help the most and a calm, caring demeanor embraced by those who have met and worked with her.
“There’s just something there,” Kaylor said. “She’s got a little angel in her.”
Kaminski knows she has big shoes to fill, but she is ready for the challenge. Though incredible progress has been made, there is still lots of work to be done with residents to break mindsets that have been passed down through generations.
“I have seen the work Linda and her team have done and how the network has grown,” Kaminski said. “This is just a natural fit.”
Kaminski – no relation to the family of the Kaminski House – is a Pittsburgh native who has spent the past six years in South Carolina. She received a master’s degree in social work from the University of South Carolina and has experience through Catholic Charities providing a range of community aid, including food pantries, response and recovery after natural disasters and more.
Bonesteel has taken time getting Kaminski up to speed on the innerworkings of the Tidelands Community Care Network - passing along the color-coded charts outlining the structure, mission and partners as well as an oversized, three-ring binder jam-packed – in Bonesteel’s highly organized way – with details on everything that Bonesteel has created in the past seven years.
“I think Kelly is going to do her proud,” Grey said.
The retirement celebrations for Bonesteel have already begun, with her last day May 3.
“She’s left her mark,” Kaylor said.