When a loved one becomes sick or develops a chronic condition, it can quickly become overwhelming to their family. Family members often have to talk with multiple doctors and specialists, such as cardiologists, neurologists, or physical therapists.
They must continually make decisions about their loved one’s care, such as whether or not to go through with a treatment, when to schedule a procedure, or what steps they should take to make sure their loved one is safe while at home. And they need to keep track of all the developments, such as making sure the medicine prescribed by the cardiologist does not conflict with what the neurologist recommends.
Home care agencies aim to help with this difficult process by providing comprehensive and coordinated care, helping families navigate the often confusing and exhausting maze the health care system can be. Many home care agencies have one person who takes on this role, directly working with each family to manage the care, helping family members understand what steps they should take next. This type of person can make a big difference.
“It relieves the stress on the family and it can make overall care more effective because you have someone who is in there, by the family’s side, who has experience and can take care of things before they balloon out of proportion,” said Belinda Gordon, owner of the Homewatch CareGivers office in Lehigh Valley, Penn.
To help her clients, Belinda recently hired Michele Taylor, RN, as a case manager. Her role is to be an advocate and liaison for families to help them coordinate a loved one’s care.
“It’s like having a personal assistant for care. You get to say what you want to have happen, what decision you want and which doctor you need to communicate it to, and the care coordinator can go out there and make it happen,” Belinda said.
Michele comes to the home care industry after spending years working as a nurse in oncology. She says the experience taught her how strong she is and she wants to use that strength to help those who need help to continue living independently at home.
“From my time in oncology, I knew I could help people die, but now I want to help people live,” Michele said. “In the hospital, I always felt like I only had time to give a patient some medicine and then I had to rush to another room. Now, I can get to know people, hear their stories, get to know them and make sure they get the care they want – the therapist will be there at a time that is convenient for them.”
Belinda likes to call this type of coordination person-directed care because the people her caregivers help choose how and when they want assistance. This could range from scheduling therapy appointments to when they want to shower. This role in deciding what senior home care services they receive empowers them and helps to alleviate looming feelings of helplessness, depression or boredom.
“Our overall goal is to keep people at home, keep them healthy, and keep them happy. We want to provide them with what they need to stay at home,” Michele said. “One of the things I learned in the hospital is that people want to be at home where they are comfortable.”
For Michele, care coordination and person-directed care comes down to one main point: Respect.
“People, no matter their age, want to be treated like they still count and they still matter. You hear stories all the time of people who become lonely and unhappy in many care situations. Their family becomes focused on handling the situation instead of connecting with a loved one. But if I can help their families by managing care for them, taking away some of the worry, they are free to enjoy the time with their elderly father or mother,” Michele said.
Michele looks forward to helping families navigate their way through the health care system, helping them understanding which doctor they need to talk to, the complications of a specific condition, and the effects of a certain medication.
“My grandmother passed away last fall at 93. If a doctor told her to take a pill, she took the pill without question. If she didn’t like something the doctor said, she wouldn’t go out and get a second option. Now, in my role as an advocate, I can give them a voice they don’t know they need. I am able to look at everything around them that can affect their quality of life,” Michele said.
This quality of life includes finding ways to attend church on Sundays even though your need for oxygen makes it difficult. It includes trips to the grocery store or market instead of just sitting inside the house all day. And it includes traveling to visit family or friends in their homes. People who need elder home care can still do these sorts of activities; they just need a little help to make it happen.
“Quality of life is being able to live well and the best you can, rather than just sitting there and waiting for the end. Everybody deserves this type of life,” Michele said.
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