Elisa Coonrod is an advocate and a fighter, and the most vulnerable members of the community are the beneficiaries of her work.
As a case manager at MSU Care, a clinic run by Mercy Springfield Communities and Missouri State University, Coonrod provides free care to uninsured and low-income patients, many of whom are homeless.
“Seeing positive changes in my patients’ lives is my motivation,” she says.
But meeting medical needs is just step one. Coonrod says she helps patients access shelter, food pantries, transportation, addiction recovery groups and assistance in filling out forms for federal benefits.
“Some of the patients I serve have no material items except what is on their body, in their rolling suitcase/backpack or left at camp,” she says.
Last year, she secured a bike, helmet and lock for a homeless patient.
“She used this bike to ride the last four blocks from the bus stop to the job,” she says. “Riding her bike in the snow from the bus stop to get to work – wow.”
Coonrod’s 37-year career in nursing has been marked by this kind of service. She began her work as a staff nurse in the labor and delivery unit at CoxHealth and later joined the Springfield-Greene County Health Department as a public health nurse. While at the health department, she served as founding director for the Child Advocacy Center, now a free-standing nonprofit serving abused children.
She went on to work as a senior nurse and regional program coordinator for Show Me Healthy Women, a program of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services that provides free breast cancer and cervical cancer screenings to uninsured women. That was followed by eight years at various Mercy clinics, landing at MSU Care in 2015.
Kathryn Hope, professor emeritus at the university and board member of MSU Care, says she is amazed that over Coonrod’s long career, her passion for the work has never faded.
“I am most impressed by her care for others,” she says. “She is instrumental in helping each person get the resources they need. She is persistent in her efforts for others – a characteristic not often seen in health care today.”
Hope cites Coonrod’s work with Ozarks Food Harvest to provide food directly to patients and a partnership with a software company to help link patients to housing options.
Coonrod says she is able to take care of others because she prioritizes continuing education on self-care.
“My patient needs are unending, and sometimes it’s hard to stay in balance,” she says. “Taking care of myself must come first if I expect to professionally take care of others.”
The passion she brings to the job is driven by her belief of every person’s worth and right to access health care.
“I may only get one instant with a patient; I need to make the most of it,” she says. “The health of the community is only as good as the collective body. Each person is important.”
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