During a recent visit to your elderly mother, you noticed some alarming changes: she was confused, unkempt, and had lost a lot of weight. You live across the county and can't leave your job and family to care for her. What to do?
Meeting Multiple Needs
Increasingly, families who need help arranging services and care for aging relatives are hiring geriatric care managers (GCM). Geriatric care management has been defined as a systematic process of assessment, planning, service coordination and referral, and monitoring to meet the multiple needs of a client. GCMs usually have training in gerontology, social work, nursing or counseling.
GCMs may arrange for medical care, coordinate in-home services such as meals on wheels, or help clients or family members determine the best options for long-term care.
According to Lynne Ploetz, president and CEO of Matrix AdvoCare Network, four factors have contributed to the growth of this emerging healthcare specialty:
- Hospitals are discharging patients just days - or even hours - after major medical procedures.
- Cost containment measures have resulted in a decrease in discharge planning staff. This means many patients are confused about what to do once they get home from the hospital.
- In our mobile society, many adult children live thousands of miles away from their aging parents.
- Individuals over age 85 are one of the fastest growing segments of the population.
Experience and Education
All Matrix care consultants - Ploetz does not use the term "care manager" - are registered nurses with four-year degrees. Many also have a Master's Degree in fields such as advanced practice nursing, pastoral care, gerontology or community health. Ploetz requires consultants to have education and experience in case management, experience working with the frail elderly, and knowledge of community resources and services. Consultants must be able to develop a therapeutic, or trusting, relationship with clients.
Consultants also need a sense of humor and the ability to be persistent with both clients and service providers. In addition, Ploetz looks for excellent written and verbal communication skills. "Most families haven't been down this road before, so teaching is an important part of the job," she says.
A Day in the Life
On an average day, a GCM spends several hours on the phone, setting up appointments, providing feedback to service providers and updating family members. She tracks routine care such as flu shots and makes sure prescriptions have been ordered. She visits clients to check on their well-being. She may also refer clients to professionals who can help with financial management or legal concerns.
"We're there to do almost anything our clients need," says Judy Hostnick, a Matrix care consultant, who sometimes takes clients shopping or out to eat.
Ploetz notes that care managers are increasingly hired to coordinate services for individuals of all ages with chronic illnesses like cancer or multiple sclerosis. "People with complex medical problems need someone to advocate for them in a fragmented system," she says.