It’s Time for Corporate America to Help its Workers with Caregiving

 

Almost three out of four American workers are juggling some type of caregiving responsibility – either caring for children, aging parents, or a spouse or partner. Yet companies remain unaware of the burden this places on the workforce, and worse, they are doing little to alleviate the stress that caregiving causes their employees. These are among the findings of a study recently published by the Harvard Business School.

The study found a huge disconnect between workers’ experiences and employers’ perceptions. For example, only 24% of employers believe that caregiving affects their workforce’s productivity, while 80% of employees admit that their caregiving responsibilities do in fact interfere with their work performance.

Beyond performance, the study found that caregiving responsibilities also derail careers for workers of all ages. Thirty-two percent of those surveyed said they had left a job because of the demands of caregiving. While the birth or adoption of a child were among the top reasons cited for leaving, one third reported leaving a job to care for an elder, while a quarter said they left a job to care for an ill spouse, partner or other family member.

The cost to business is multifaceted. High turnover, loss of institutional knowledge, absenteeism and presenteeism were among the hidden costs – often difficult to quantify – identified by the study’s authors as consequences of a workforce that struggles with caregiving.

The good news is that employers can help employees effectively manage both their caregiving responsibilities and the demands of their jobs by providing benefits that assist them with their roles as caregivers. We’re not there yet, but the resources are available.

Few employers offer the types of benefits that directly address caregivers’ needs; of those that do, high percentages of employees take advantage of them, according to the survey. Healthcare coordination and advocacy, when offered as part of an employee benefit package, can provide workers with assistance, resources and peace of mind to allow them to focus fully on their jobs while they are at work. Advocates can work with and through Human Resources Departments to offer their services to employees as needed. When the costs of caregiving are considered, it becomes clear that offering access to advocates as an employee benefit is not only an asset to the employee, but it’s also good for the bottom line.

For additional information, please contact me at 516-584-2007 or email nicole@careanswered.com.

Nicole Christensen Earns Board Certified Patient Advocate (BCPA) Certification

Nicole Christensen, owner of Care Answered, has earned the Board Certified Patient Advocate (BCPA) credential. The BCPA designation acknowledges patient advocate professionals who have demonstrated their experience and proficiency in the field of patient advocacy. The BCPA credential is built on ethical standards, professional competencies and best practices for professionals who work in the emerging field of patient advocacy and have taken the steps necessary to become certified.

Christensen started Care Answered, a healthcare coordination and patient advocacy consulting firm, in 2014. A native Long Islander who has lived and worked in both Nassau and Suffolk Counties, as well as NYC, she has more than 15 years’ experience in advocacy for older adults. Christensen earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Baruch College and a Master of Science degree in Urban Affairs from Hunter College. Her career includes serving as Advocacy Director at Emmaus Service for the Aging in Washington, DC; Advocacy Consultant for LiveOn NY; and Director of Food Access at FoodChange, spearheading the focused outreach and advocacy campaign. As the Vice President of Programs and Agency Relations at Island Harvest, she developed and launched the first senior citizen mobile outreach and advocacy program.

In addition to her professional experience, Christensen has had the personal challenge of securing the best possible care for her own family and thus understands how overwhelming and daunting it can seem.

“I call upon both my professional skills and my personal experience to provide every client with effective advocacy,” said Christensen. “Knowing how to navigate the healthcare system, access the benefits to which families are entitled, and obtain the safest, most appropriate care for my clients and their loved ones is so rewarding. My goal is to provide families with peace of mind and often help them save money as they ensure that their loved ones are well-cared for.”

After conducting industry research, the BCPA certification was created to recognize professionals who are committed to ongoing professional development and the attainment of the skills and knowledge necessary to perform their jobs at the highest level. The BCPA credential is also an avenue for employers to recognize and promote professionalism in patient advocacy.

“It is gratifying to have achieved this certification attesting to the knowledge and experience I have amassed during my career,” said Christensen.

For additional information on Care Answered, visit careanswered.com or call (516) 584-2007. To learn more about PACB, visit its website.

You Can’t Take Them with You: April is National Donate Life Month

 

 

This month I had to renew my license and once again checked off the box for organ donor.  What a sense of accomplishment with such little effort!  Will you join me?

The Need

About 114,000 Americans – roughly the population of Ann Arbor, Michigan – are awaiting a life-saving organ transplant. Every day, 20 people on that list die waiting, while another person is added every ten minutes.

Deciding to become an organ donor is a simple process that requires registration with your state. In New York, you can easily register to become an organ donor when you renew your license or non-driver identification card with the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV). While New York is home to 10 percent of all Americans awaiting an organ donation, the state lags the national average for organ donors, with only 29% of eligible adults enrolled in the registry compared to 51% who have registered nationwide.

Anyone aged 16 and over can join the New York State Organ Donor Registry, and there is no upper age limit for potential donors. In fact, the oldest organ donor in the U.S. was 93. Donor suitability is based solely on the donor’s medical condition and history. Organs that may be donated to help save a life include the heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, and intestines. Corneas may be donated to help restore sight. Tissue donation may be used to replace bone, cartilage and ligaments damaged by disease or injury.

One single organ donor can save up to eight lives and benefit 75 other patients who are in need of donor tissue.

Overcoming Objections

There are many reasons why people shy away from enrolling in the donor registry. Some worry that being an organ donor is against their religion. In reality, all major faiths support organ donation. You can read more about your faith’s position on organ donation here.

Others may be concerned that organ donation will disfigure the body or preclude an open casket funeral service. This is not the case; organ donors may still have an open casket as there is no visible evidence of organ donation on the donor’s body.

Some people question whether their decision to donate organs will impact on their medical care at the end of life. This is not an issue. The organ donor team and the medical treatment team are separate. Every effort is made to save the life of the organ donor. Only when those efforts have been exhausted is the organ donation team notified of the potential availability of organs for a recipient on the waiting list.

April is National Donate Life Month, an annual campaign designed to increase awareness of the dire need for organ donors and to dispel myths surrounding organ donation. As Spring makes a return across our region, it’s natural to think about rebirth and new life. Why not take a moment this month to help another person by making the ultimate gift of life: become an organ donor.

Learn more about becoming an organ donor in New York State.

When the Caregiver Needs Care, You Need an Advocate

 

 

Rick Pantuliano lives with his wife and two daughters just a short drive away from his parents’ Nassau County home. This proximity has allowed them to maintain a close relationship with his 77-year-old mother. Yet even though he is nearby, he still needed professional help when his mother’s dementia became significant enough that she required round-the-clock care.

“It got to a point where my mom needed to go on Medicaid,” Rick said. “Applying was a confusing process. I was pulling my hair out.”

His attorney recommended that he contact Nicole Christensen of Care Answered.

“She held my hand through the entire process,” he recalled. “She helped me understand every step of a very time consuming and complicated situation.”

Describing his mom, Raffaela, as a strong woman who was traditionally the caregiver for other family members, Rick related how she began to show signs of dementia about six years ago, six years after his father passed away from emphysema.

“She took care of her sick aunt, who died of cancer. Then she cared for her uncle who passed away of old age. She took care of her own mom and dad who lived with them for years. She took care of a lot of people,” Rick said. “Now it’s her turn, and there’s nobody there but me.”

Commuting from Long Island each day to his job in New Jersey keeps him away for long hours, adding to the stress of trying to ensure that his mom’s needs were being met. Nicole’s assistance helped Rick feel confident that he was arranging for the most appropriate care possible for his mom.

“I would still be at the starting line if it wasn’t for Nicole,” he noted. “She was my advocate. She walked me through the entire process and stepped in whenever I felt I was hitting a brick wall. She translated everything and made it understandable and easy.”

More importantly, Nicole’s intervention will ultimately save the family a significant amount of money. With her help, Rick was able to access funding to pay for live-in aides for his mom – services for which he had been paying out of pocket each month.

Rick worked with Nicole for about five months. She brought him to a point where he has a much better understanding of how the system works and feels empowered to handle the hurdles he faces. She reassured him recently by saying, “You got this,” when he was confronted with yet another form to fill out.

And he agrees. “I am basically comfortable with everything at this point,” he said.

His mom is living safely at home with 24-hour aides. Rick is thankful for the ongoing support of his wife and daughters, and for Nicole’s intervention when he needed her expertise most.

“I would highly recommend Nicole to anybody,” he said. “Unless you’re home 24 hours a day and don’t have a job and understand the ins and outs of the healthcare system, you absolutely need an advocate. Nicole is a wonderful person. She is very caring, very in tune to your needs, and she just does her job very, very well.”

 

 

Nicole Christensen on Project Independence WCWP.org with John Ryan & Ann Hirsch

Recently, Care Answered Director Nicole Christensen appeared on Project Independence, a radio program dedicated to the needs of older adults. Hear the shocking statistics she shared with hosts John Ryan and Ann Hirsch about preventable medical errors and how to be your own healthcare advocate.

Listen here:

https://northhempsteadny.gov/PI-2019-01-Radio-Shows

 

 

Women’s History Month Panel Shines a Light on Healthcare Disparities

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to participate as a panelist in a discussion on diversity, women’s issues, and entrepreneurship. The panel was part of a Women’s History Month presentation to the Health & Business Alliance, a trade and networking group to which I belong. My co-panelists, Lauren Tanen and Susan Ganz, each brought their own unique perspective on the challenges that confront many women as well as people of color as they navigate their workplaces, healthcare and educational institutions, and other parts of their lives.

My own contribution to the panel centered on healthcare disparities. African Americans have a 40% greater risk than whites of getting high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease, heart failure, kidney disease and stroke. African Americans are also twice as likely as whites to be diabetic, which leads to a host of serious medical complications.

Last year, the New York Times ran a feature report called “Why America’s Black Mothers and Babies are in a Life-and-Death Crisis.” In an article full of shocking statistics, this one stands out: Black infants in America are more than twice as likely to die as white infants. But what’s even more shocking is the fact that this disparity has actually increased in the past century and a half, since statistics like this were first recorded in 1850, 15 years before the end of slavery.

And these disparities extend to other minority groups as well. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that compared to whites, Hispanics are about 50% more likely to die of diabetes or liver disease.

These ongoing inequities are part of what drives me to continue my professional quest as a healthcare advocate. A significant part of what I do is to advocate for patients, whoever they are, whenever and wherever they interact with the healthcare system.

It is essential that every person fully understands the information presented by medical professionals and is able to carry out the doctors’ recommendations. Our American healthcare system is complex, involving interactions with insurance companies, government payers, employers, healthcare providers, pharmacies, medical device companies, long term care providers, assisted living centers, rehabilitation facilities, home care agencies, and more. I specialize in helping clients cut through the clutter so that they are armed with clear, understandable information and are empowered to make the healthcare decisions that are best for them and their families.

I’d love to hear about your experiences. Whether you are a man or a woman, member of a minority group or not, what has it been like for you when dealing with a doctor, hospital, school, workplace, government agency or other institution? Did you feel heard, respected, and understood, or marginalized? By sharing our stories, as I and my fellow panelists did, and speaking up for one another, I believe we will begin to make a much needed change.

 

Helping a Loved One Manage Chronic Conditions

Six in ten adults live with at least one chronic disease, such as cancer, heart disease, asthma, stroke and diabetes, while four in ten have multiple chronic conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While many adults are able to manage their own chronic medical conditions, as they age this can become a challenging juggling act, especially when there are multiple medical conditions being treated.

Knowing When to Help

Some people with chronic medical conditions develop tricks and habits to help them cope. These techniques may make it appear that they are managing fine, when in reality they are just barely getting by. A seemingly inconsequential issue – a minor cold, a missed trip to the pharmacy, or a skipped meal – may be all that it takes for disaster to strike. The trick for loved ones is to know when to step in with assistance.

older man looking into camera

Get Involved Early

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Offer to accompany your loved one to doctor’s appointments if your schedule permits. This will enable you to assess whether your loved one appears to understand the doctor’s instructions and is following his or her medication regimen and dietary recommendations.

Try to encourage frank discussions about your loved one’s condition. Encourage them to be honest about their symptoms, pain, and ability to function. Listen without judgment.

When More Help is Needed

If you feel that your loved one may need more help as their disease progresses, explore all of your options. The areas in which assistance may be needed include:

  • Personal care – bathing, dressing, washing hair. A family member may be able to assist with this, or a personal care aide can be brought in to help with these types of tasks.
  • Household chores – cooking, cleaning, laundry, minor household repairs. Again, a friend or family member may be able to visit the home to help with cooking and housework. Another option is for someone to deliver pre-cooked meals or for your loved one to travel to a senior center or local club for a hot meal. Often minor repairs can be outsourced to a local handyman; ask neighbors and friends for a trustworthy referral. If more help is needed, a personal care aide may be able to pitch in.
  • Medication compliance – pill boxes, alarms, phone calls and other technological devices can help remind your loved one about which medication to take and when to take it.

An Advocate can Help

When the juggling act of trying to coordinate the multiple aspects of a loved one’s care becomes overwhelming, it might be time to consider hiring an advocate. A healthcare advocate can help you determine what care options are available and put those services into place, accompany your loved one to doctor’s appointments, make sense of complex medical information and untangle medical bills and insurance documents, arrange for in-home care or nursing home placement as needed. To learn more about what an advocate can do, call us at 516-584-2007.

Heart Month Myths and Facts that Could Save Your Life

You can be in love with your sweetheart, suffer heartbreak, wear your heart on your sleeve, or hear a heartwarming story. Yet for all the references to the heart in language, poetry, music and popular culture, there is a great deal of misunderstanding about how the heart actually functions and nature of heart disease.

Sitting just off-center in your chest cavity, your heart is a fist-sized organ that beats roughly 70 times a minute, pumping oxygen-rich blood to vital organs throughout your body. If you think of the body as a building, your heart contains elements of both the plumbing and electrical systems. An electrical impulse stimulates the heart to beat in a normal, steady rhythm. Any disruption to that electrical system will result in an arrhythmia, which can range from a harmless mis-fire to a life-threatening inability to effectively pump.

With arteries carrying oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body, and veins transporting oxygen-depleted blood back to the heart, any interference with those vessels can result in serious problems. Just like a clogged pipe can spell disaster in your home, coronary artery blockages can lead to a heart attack because they prevent oxygenated blood from nourishing the heart itself, resulting in damage to the heart muscle.

With those basics out of the way, let’s see if you can separate fact from fiction when it comes to heart disease.

True or False? Men are more likely to have a heart attack than women.

It is true that men are more likely to have a heart attack than women. But there are variables. When the statistics are broken down by age and ethnicity as well as gender, it turns out that at every age, the rate of heart attacks in black women meets or exceeds that in white men. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says that the rate of heart attacks in all women increases dramatically, nearly doubling after the age of 65.

True or False? Breast cancer is the #1 killer of woman in America.

This is false. More women die of cardiovascular disease than breast cancer in America. More than a third of deaths of American women over the age of 20 are due to cardiovascular disease, and heart attacks kill 200,000 American women each year. This is five times as many as are killed by breast cancer, according to the American College of Cardiology.

True or False? Heart disease is genetic. There’s nothing you can do to prevent it.

The good news is that heart disease is considered preventable. In fact, there has been a 60% decline in heart disease from the 1950s to the beginning of the 21st century, according to the CDC. This is mostly due to changes in lifestyle that reduced risk factors, including a decline in cigarette smoking, greater control over high blood pressure, dietary changes emphasizing low fat foods, and improved diagnosis and treatment options.

What Does this Mean for You?

Despite the advances, heart disease remains a serious health threat for both men and women. It is important to have regular physical exams and to have your blood pressure and cholesterol levels checked. Be sure that you manage chronic conditions like diabetes that could contribute to heart disease. And adjust your lifestyle to make healthier choices: don’t smoke, avoid excessive alcohol, get some exercise every day, and stay away from fatty, fried foods. Adjusting your lifestyle is often easier said than done but YOU are worth it.

For additional tips, visit the CDC at https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/about.htm.

What Medical Tests Do I Need?

Your doctor may have suggested you take a medical test, while your friend suggested you take another test that helped save her life, and your brother stated that you shouldn’t take any medical tests because they’re all a scam to get your money. Who is right?

I don’t have the answer to that question. But you do!

Here are some questions to ask your clinician so you can make an informed decision:

-What will the results of the test you are suggesting tell us?

-Are you suggesting these tests based on my family history, symptoms I’m showing, or for another reason?

-I have a friend who had very similar symptoms as I have. Could “x” test be appropriate for me to rule out “y” condition?

-Would you please list for me the pros and cons of having this test (i.e. does it generally have a number of false positives. If so, can it lead to unnecessary procedures that can cause more harm than good?)

-When can I call back for those test results?

Remember no news is not good news. If you decide to have a screening or test done, ask when the results should be expected and who will provide you with the results. If you don’t hear from them, it could mean that they forgot or your file got lost. This lack of knowledge is putting your health in jeopardy. Make sure you contact them and get the results.

Information is power so I want to share with you some information from leading healthcare professionals. Consumer Reports published an article assessing the benefits and risks of medical screenings. They did all the work combing through research, speaking with healthcare experts and coming up with the findings. Below are a few of the key take-aways from their report.*

Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm (AAA) Screening AAAs can cause life-threatening bleeding. This screening is an ultrasound recommended for men 65-75 who were or are current smokers, as well as men and women in that same age group who have a family history of AAA. If an AAA is found the doctor may suggest monitoring or surgical repair.

Bone Density Screening This is a screening test to detect low bone density (osteopenia) and weak, brittle bones (osteoporosis). Generally recommended for women aged 65 but also for women around the age of menopause if they are at risk (i.e. history of smoking or family history of osteoporosis). Men can consider screening at around age 80. If osteopenia is detected, a diet rich in vitamin D, exercise and calcium are often advised. If osteoporosis is detected the clinician may suggest medication to prevent fractures.

Electrocardiogram (EKG) and exercise stress tests These are done to check for signs of heart disease or arrhythmias. They are recommended for those at high risk for heart disease or those with suspected heart disease or symptoms (i.e. shortness of breath or chest pain) as a diagnostic tool. But for other low-risk people with no symptoms, these tests may lead to inaccurate results and unnecessary procedures.

Lung Cancer Scan This low-dose CT scan images the lungs. It is recommended for adults 55-80 with a “30 pack-year history” (smoking a pack a day for 30 years or two packs a day for 15 years) who currently smoke or quit within the last 15 years. It has been found to detect lung cancer early and prevent death for those at highest risk.

Remember, it is always advised that you speak with your doctor for specific recommendations on the screenings and medical tests that are indicated for your unique situation. If you need help selecting a healthcare provider or need an advocate to ask these questions and coordinate care, we can assist you. Give us a call at (516) 584-2007.

*For information and more in-depth information on these screening see Consumer Reports’ January 2019 article “Too Many Tests?”