Only Anecdotal

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Back Off

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The referrals continue to pour in from One Care for assessments around long-term support services.

This week I want to focus on the very nature of our “long-term support service” world, and what happens on the ground when it becomes real to the acute medical model. For the last year (and then some) that I have been contemplating this groundbreaking notion of healthcare with the dually-eligible Medicare/Medicaid population, the policy side of the model has carved some notion of what this all means.

The reality is that the One Care program is growing very quickly, and plans are hiring all sorts of people who have not been privy to all the advocacy that preceded implementation. So, once more we are experiencing the pain–and possibility–of merging two very different service worlds (acute care meets the day-to-day grind)

This is hard, but it is excellent. Now we have the exciting opportunity to show, rather than just tell, how health and healthcare itself affects the lives of a real people.

In my second assessment, this is exactly the situation that presented itself, as I met with an individual who had previously received some assistance from my agency. She now has returned to us through a referral for a long-term services and support assessment–the next step as this individual seeks the expanded services, and lack of co-pays, that One Care can provide to her.

Now, this consumer has managed quite well on her own throughout her life, but she does have a noticeable disability. I am around it all the time–used to it in my own family, my friends, my work, my world in general. It is strange to me in other parts of my life to step outside of it all and remember that many people really do not spend a lot of time around people in wheelchairs, or who have amputations, who use assistive technology to communicate, who have anxieties, or whose movements or behaviors are somehow… different. I worked for a long time in translation, and found a similar phenomenon when other people remarked on accents. These are cultural differences, more than anything else. But our acceptance of these cultural differences–or even our expectation of them–can vary widely depending on our experiences.

As I have lived in a world of disability for a long time, I have also seen that there is often a sort of entrepreneurial (a.k.a. do-it-yourself) approach to life that comes from a life of living in a world that does not always meet the exact need. If we think about it, we all do all sorts of strange things to make our way in the world–it’s just that the adaptations of people who look, act and move differently are bound to be different, too. And when I say, “different,” I mean, it may look risky, unsafe, and generally inadvisable. Just like half the things I do at home.

Without going into undue detail about my most recent assessment, I want to note that my biggest recommendation to the caring and well-intentioned medical team is this: Back off! I know this sounds incredibly harsh, but sometimes people’s lives are working much better than we think they are from our objective perch. Sometimes a person does not want 24/7 care–and in fact, that round-the-clock home invasion may actually wind up being draining and intrusive, and detrimental to the person receiving it. Maybe bad things can happen. Maybe they can happen, anyway. Maybe the fact that we can put a service in place does not always mean that we should.

And we especially should not, when a person tells us not to.

Now, this gets us back to the crux of all independent living philosophy, which emphasizes consumer control. But this is it, in the home, on the ground, running. Or rolling, anyway.

And I cannot get far in this conversation without acknowledging the very large elephant that sits in every meeting room whenever we in our disability world meet with the Medical Model. That elephant is that the disability world does not trust the medical world. I suspect that the feeling is mutual.

This said, we want to trust, though. Don’t we? Isn’t this why we are here, at this historic point now? I see so many efforts from the medical world to create medical homes, and to reach out to people who have always been seen through a lens of “complex medical needs”–to see why health does not improve, or what is working well. From the viewpoint of a person with a disability, medical care is necessary, if only to prove a need for accessibility. But it is more. We have a real opportunity now to reinvent what healthcare means, not just to people with disabilities, but to all of us. Living life is the real issue, and facilitating our capacity to have a high quality to that life… We do not need intrusion, but listening, and understanding.

It takes time, and change is hard. It is a relief that everyone wants to try.

Written by Only Anecdotal

3 Feb 2014 at 7:32pm

Imagine

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In the time since I last wrote here, the world has changed.

We have embarked on so many new adventures in the agency where I work, in the state, in the country… It is all a bit baffling to see the ideas so long expressed coming to fruition now. I find myself once in awhile holding onto my cynicism like an ugly old jacket that served its purpose well enough to protect me back in the day, even if it never quite fit. Same with our healthcare. Hard to believe we might be able to order something tailor-made, but right now I am in the ordering business!

Last week I went out to do my first long-term services and supports (LTSS) assessment for the One Care program–Massachusetts’ demonstration healthcare program for people ages 21 to 64 who are dually eligible for Medicare and MassHealth (Massachusetts’ Medicaid program). Since people in this age group only receive Medicare after they have been on SSDI (Social Security Disability Insurance) for two years*, we know that their disabilities are significant and long-term. MassHealth is triggered also by low income and/or disability. Some may buy into the MassHealth system, but most would only do so to maintain some sort of long-term benefit, such as personal care attendants. Either way, we know that dual-eligible individuals often struggle with day-to-day life. While it may be an illness or disability that has made daily activities difficult, it is also true that for many people, this lack of support in the day-to-day needs becomes a downward spiral into isolation and worse health.

The unmet need for long-term services is hellishly familiar to those of us who have worked or lived with disability for any length of time. I personally have clamored for years about what a great world it would be if we could embrace care coordination, medical home, consumer control, participatory healthcare, collaborative decision-making… I have had my mantras, my rants, my moments of frustration.

And now.. I have had the experience of sitting in a consumer’s living room, asking the individual what he needed in his daily life. He told me, told me what he does, what is hard, and I came up with a few creative suggestions for things that may make these things possible.. or easier. I have absolutely no idea whether a healthcare plan is going to recognize the tremendous benefit of, say, a gym membership and transportation to get there. Or support for companion pets. Or even homecare–not so easy to get that sort of help before a certain age. But I am writing it down, recommending it strongly, and ready to explain why.

This first assessment was difficult for me, mainly because I am so much in the habit of thinking two steps ahead, to what is available instead of to what is really needed. I find myself frustrated at my own realization of how much I had adapted to this system of thinking–a system that I have complained about for so long. I have spent so many years hitting my head on the wall trying everything I can possibly think of to get someone desperately needed help (and much of this help being for my own children) that I find it incredibly hard to believe that there is a program where I can write down, “Julie X. needs Y, because it will help her health in ABC way…”, and Y will be granted (I believe the preferred term is authorized). I have joked for a long time that my requisition for a magic wand is on hold, but by golly, I am beginning to wonder if that purchase order did not just go through.

So, when I send in my most recent assessment, with a few very reasonable recommendations that may be completely life-altering for that individual, I am going to hold my breath, cross my fingers, and try very hard to believe that this is really true.

I once saw a woman who was facing enormous challenges in getting any sort of support approved. It was very difficult for her, she said, not to compare notes with her friend from home. Her friend had been misdiagnosed with cancer, she told me, and the healthcare system of her native country had sent her friend for a week to a spa for emotional recovery. When her friend arrived on the train, an attendant was waiting to help with her wheelchair and luggage, and a ride to the spa.

The woman I was visiting looked around her now-cluttered dining room at her own unassembled monitors, and her calendar, and her list of appointments and medications she could barely remember, much less afford.

“This is barbaric,” she told me. It was hard to argue with her. She was sick, and tired, and had trusted enough to go through with preventive surgery that made her feel much worse than she had felt before–and this was months after she was told she should have recovered. She was at a loss to figure out how she could care for herself and her home now. Before her surgery, she had still been mowing her own lawn.

Imagine that this were different. Imagine that she had understood the affect that the surgery might have had on her life afterward. Imagine that she had still had the surgery, and that her doctors had planned for the hands-on support at home that she really needed to make a good recovery. Imagine that our biggest challenge in meeting need were simply a matter of figuring out how to schedule it all appropriately, and not whether it is even possible.

Imagine this demonstration works, and spreads to all of us in our new healthcare system.

I am ready to start imagining. Are you?

Written by Only Anecdotal

28 Jan 2014 at 1:39pm

My Inspiration

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My mom died around midnight Saturday night.

She had been struggling for many years with a number of chronic conditions, all beginning with a diagnosis of rheumatoid arthritis in her forties. Over time, things became harder and harder, her lungs and heart weaker. She rallied forth, every time. She was strong, invincible I thought. But the cold she caught in a short-term rehabilitation unit was finally too much. An infection developed, and within two days, her kidneys failed. There were no heroic efforts to intubate or dialyze–my mom knew a long time ago that she never wanted those things. She talked to us for as long as she could, until she faded, and never awoke. I will always laugh as I think that she said she was sorry she would miss Downton Abbey this week.

My mom died an ideal death. The one blessing of losing my dad in 1985 was that it gave us plenty of time as a family to discuss death, and not to fear it. My dad had lung cancer, and was sentenced to certain death over three months before he actually died. In that time, we as a family spent our time in an endless cycle of work, dinner, hospital, home. Repeat. Several panics before the end–this is it–he pulled through, only to writhe in pain. I remember even as a twenty year old thinking that the fears of morphine addiction seemed ill-placed, as did the very arrogance that surgery on a dying man is a good idea. As I recall, we were never given a choice of what should happen, and if we were, we were probably still seduced by the notion of medical miracles. The last words I remember hearing from my dad are “It’s all right. It will be over soon.” He must have seen my frightened face, my anguish at the intensity of his suffering. I avoided all doctors and hospitals as much as possible–for years–until my own children were born.

I have spent an enormous amount of time in hospitals since then, in all sorts of situations. I have to say, I am most often impressed by the care and knowledge I see, and my mom had remarkably good care at the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit of St. Luke’s Hospital in Kansas City.

If the acute care of her final days was beyond excellent, the long-term care options preceding that time were filled with anxiety and frustration. Too little money to afford assisted living or private home care, she pieced things together, accepted mediocre services until they became more cumbersome to allow than to refuse. (The one exception was the man she found to drive her on errands. His name is Diego, and he could not have been kinder.) My mom worried, a lot, and she became sicker.

I was frustrated, because I am supposed to know my way around this. But then again, looking at the fantastic facilities where my mom died, considering the costs of those heroic efforts that many people do try, thinking of the enormous blessing that my mom’s Medicare and supplemental insurance will pay for it all… I imagine we can create long-term care services of similar quality. As we see the shift in the years to come from the sexy world of specialties and surgeries to primary care and prevention, we will feel the difference in our lives, all of our lives. We have to.

Written by Only Anecdotal

4 Feb 2013 at 5:26pm

Compliance

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I was talking last week to a group of intensive case managers in a big primary care practice that is moving to a medical home model.

Now, I like my work a lot, especially when things click, and it really is a matter of helping people navigate the system. I like it even better when I get to tell the changemakers–legislators, heads of healthcare systems, etc.–what people really want and need.

The problem is, people often do not know what they want, much less need. And this creates a situation where other people, or whole systems, try to dictate this to them. Or more exactly, try to dictate how people should live their lives in order to be healthy, and therefore happy.

Health and happiness, though, are qualitative terms that are not easily measured by what may be deemed as wellness in many respects. If a person feels fine, that perception is unlikely to change unless something changes rather dramatically in qualitative measures: it hurts, or it keeps me from being able to do something.

And even then, it seems to me that the change has to be rather sudden. Loss of ability over time allows for adaptation. And in general, this is good.

But in comes the healthcare system, with its idea that it has to fix things.

Or so I hear. There is a rather amazing power dynamic between many a sick patient and a doctor. The one that is perhaps skeptical about all the prescription bottles sitting on his kitchen counter (how much they cost, and how they are making him feel) and the doctor who sees a treatment as the thing that will significantly improve that patient’s quality of life.

So, I spend a lot of time working on issues around quality of life–housing, for example. Or transportation–not just to medical appointments, but to go out to the store, or to the hairdresser (amazing how often this concern comes up). And I also spend a lot of time telling people what their rights are, what choices they have whether in the hospital or in trying to make home modifications. And the person who will use the resources is always the person who drives the bus, in my book.

The case managers I saw last week all were happy about this, and agreed.

So, I am always eager to hear about the professionals I work beside, too. What is frustrating to them? What would make their jobs easier?

I asked the case managers what their biggest challenge was.

Their answer?

Compliance.

It was universal, and it stunned me. I was thinking about that as I visited people in the next week, people in varied and often drastic situations. I was thinking about concerns around hospital readmissions and chronic conditions that often lead to more disease, or worse. And I was thinking about this whole idea of compliance, and what it really means.

I think it is a matter of control. Some people may know full well that they feel better if they stick to a regime of one sort or another, and still choose not to do it. But there may be a lot of other issues that lead to what appears to be lack of compliance.