With the growing popularity and awareness of home health care, elderly patients and those with disabilities can stay home rather than move into a facility while still receiving the assistance and supervision they need to stay safe.
A home health program offered by the University of Oklahoma's College of Nursing is designed to help elderly and disabled patients maintain their independence and quality of life without sacrificing care.
"The bottom line in our society today, people work very hard at many different things, and so we're able to go in there and make it easier for the person if they happen to be caring for an aging or disabled loved one," said Margo MacRobert, a registered nurse and executive director of the college's Life Stage Solutions.
The OU College of Nursing has operated a similar program for 14 years, and started Life Stage Solutions in January. Many of those interested in the program are out-of-state residents with aging parents living in Oklahoma. Also interested are adults living with their parents, or whose parents have moved in with them, MacRobert said.
"We're able to help them identify resources, be there as a support system, and actually help them make some healthcare decisions on behalf of their family," she said.
While home health care is a growing trend, it has been slower to catch on here in Oklahoma than on the coasts and in areas considered "retirement states," said Gina Fisher, director of clinical operations. Programs like Life Stage Solutions have already changed the care available to older patients and those with disabilities, she added.
"I think the greatest impact is in care coordination, being able to bridge the gap between health care systems and specific health care providers," she said. "I think also taking into account individual values and what they want, because the care manager really acts as an advocate on behalf of that person."
Serving as an advocate is an important part of the care manager's role, MacRobert said.
"It's very hard for an elderly person and their family, sometimes, to advocate to the physicians on their behalf," she said. "Because, let's face it, when we go in to see our physician, unless we're very fortunate, we don't have a lot of time to talk about all of our issues."
But a care manager can accompany patients to their appointments to make sure all issues are addressed. This, MacRobert said, can save families money and hopefully decrease hospitalization.
Often, she said, Life Stage Solutions is called in when a family must decided whether to continue caring for their loved one at home or find a facility for them. The agency can assess whether it is safe for the patient to stay at home or if a care facility might be a better option. If a facility is decided on, Life Stage Solutions can help families identify which facilities best meet their needs and set up tours for them.
"A care manager can really become like a professional relative and can guide families as they're looking at all the information and all the choices that are available," Fisher said.
Life Stage Solutions seeks to provide this guidance not only to individuals and families, but to others involved in care or who might need assistance, she added.
"We are working to provide education to healthcare providers, to community groups, to families on an individual basis, so they're aware of what options are available for folks who need supportive services in the community," she said.
MacRobert said the program is the only one she knows of that is affiliated with a university. This relationship is not only unique; it also enhances the care provided, she said.
"Our standard of care is very high," she said. "We send only the most qualified of case managers out to these individuals. We have a sound research base to support those things that we suggest or perhaps those things we become involved in.
"If, however, the family decided they want to continue taking care of the patient, we're able to put together a comprehensive plan of care so that we can render all areas of support that maybe they don't know about to help them be more successful and to take that burden off their shoulders, so they're not so encumbered."
That can be a needed relief to the many families that are not only caring for the loved one, but also working full-time and raising children. "Lea Terry