Creating Calm Rachel Russell and the Theory of Mutual Influence

August 01, 2005 | Terri Croghan

The most stressful aspect of hospitalization often has nothing to do with medical procedures. For some, their bill causes the greatest anxiety. Fortunately, patients at Walla Walla General Hospital can turn to Rachel Russell to calm the storm of questions and help quiet some of the worry.

For seven years, Russell has served in the business office where she has acquired vast knowledge of insurance claims procedures and billing issues. “Most folks think I just wait for people to come pay a bill,” says Russell, "but nothing could be further from the truth.

“It’s a privilege to see little moments in people’s lives,” says Russell, “especially those moments that are pivotal.” Like the young father she remembers so clearly.

“He had more than $10,000 in medical bills. He was the sole provider for his family, and you could see his incredible worry,” recalls Russell. “I had the pleasure of telling him that the hospital portion of his bill was 100 percent taken care of. To see such immense relief wash over his face and know that in that moment hope was restored was just amazing.”

Other moments are equally touching, though they often have nothing to do with finances. With a degree in Spanish, Russell frequently serves as a translator. In that role, she has witnessed tender moments between mother and baby as they work with a lactation consultant to learn the art of breastfeeding and delivered news to a couple awaiting the results of a pregnancy test.

“They’re so grateful,” says Russell with a smile. “Sometimes I get a hug that should have gone to someone else. But it sure makes it a fun day for me!”

Russell's personal philosophy reflects her commitment to living the hospital’s mission of restoring peace, hope and health as Christ did. “I believe in mutual influence—that everything you touch changes you, and you change it,” she says.

That’s what enables her to soothe tense moments with frustrated people who may be unfamiliar with the costs involved in providing even routine outpatient care.

While Russell sometimes hears, “But I was only in there an hour,” she considers each of these encounters an opportunity. She takes time to explain the behind-the-scenes processes required for that single hour of care and helps patients with paperwork and payment options. “I get to reassure people and to show them that we’re truly taking good care of them.”


At Adventist Health, a patient’s ability to pay is never considered when that person seeks needed care. The health system recently implemented billing and charity care policies to ensure that each of its 20 West Coast hospitals has financial assistance and debt collection practices consistent with its mission and values. In conjunction with the new policies, a bilingual brochure was created in English and Spanish to explain the ins and outs of the often complex billing process.

Billing representatives like Russell work with patients to see if they qualify for government programs such as Medicaid, low-income discounts and other financial assistance options.