With our Care Expert Spotlight series, we’re taking a peek into the lives of Wellthy's amazing care professionals.
This month we spoke with Ashley Hennessy, a Care Adviser at Wellthy, who has a background in education and mental health in all ages, as well as personal experience with Parkinson’s. Wellthy’s team of Care Coordinators and Advisers work directly with families to understand their care needs, create a care plan, prioritize tasks, and get things done on their behalf.
Ashley is also a Moderator for Wellthy Community, a peer support network for Wellthy members allowing family caregivers to connect with each other online. For more information on Wellthy Community, check out this post.
What do you do as a Care Adviser at Wellthy and what is your background in?
I’m a mental health specialist on the Care Adviser team, and I have a Master’s of Science in Education, specializing in Community Mental Health. I do a lot of in-network searches for providers like therapists, psychologists, and psychiatrists. I help families navigate the insurance world – it’s a mess!
Because of my background, I know the different licenses that providers have and the distinctions in different types of therapy. For example, I know that applied behavior analysis (ABA) therapy is most relevant to kiddos with autism, but if a child doesn’t have autism, something like parent child interaction therapy (PCIT) might be effective. I can look at a family’s situation and pretty quickly identify a few ways to help them, which is the hardest part for a lot of families, just knowing where to start.
After grad school, I started working at the Mental Health Cooperative in Nashville, where I was on the homeless team, the case management team, and the intensive team. I worked with individuals that were frequently hospitalized and they needed someone to check in on them almost daily. Then I got certified as a Mental Health Infant Specialist in Wisconsin – there were only seven of us at the time. Now, I’m starting to work at a hospice and will eventually become an end of life doula.
What is your personal caregiving story?
I wasn’t the primary caregiver for my father, but he had Parkinson’s for most of my life. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when I was around 10 years old – I don’t have any memories without him having tremors. When I was in high school, his physical symptoms progressed pretty quickly. He always maintained such a good attitude – he even pushed through the tremors to learn calligraphy! As it got worse, we made modifications around the home like getting him a scooter and adding ramps.
My stepmom lived with him, but my sister and her husband moved states to be closer to him so they could help out during the day. I’d go to support groups with him, give my sister a break on the weekends, that sort of thing. I’m very familiar with the mental, physical, and emotional loads that caregivers go through.
When I graduated college, the mental piece started affecting him more and he showed signs of dementia. Soon after that, he was in hospice for two years before passing.
What advice do you have for those caring for parents alongside siblings?
Be open and honest about how you’re feeling and what you want. That communication is so important and even if it’s hard, still talking about issues even if you don’t agree. That was really helpful for us. Resentment can fester, but if you try to be on the same page as everyone else, that’ll make it a lot easier.
We were also lucky that my dad did it right. He had a living will and wrote down how and where he wanted to pass. I was angry at the time because he didn’t want any intervention toward the end of his life, but looking back, I’m so thankful that he took the responsibility to make those choices out of our hands. It’s a beautiful gift for you to give to someone. Had he not had that all set up, my siblings and I would have fought a lot and it might’ve ruined our relationships.
How is Wellthy’s support really different from what someone can do on their own when looking for providers?
It takes a LOT of time to search for providers, and information out there isn’t always accurate. When I do a provider search for a Wellthy member, I call each provider we’re vetting, and about half the time, they don’t actually take the insurance, despite the insurance company’s website saying so.
That’s the biggest way we help, is saving time. We have the time to sit on the phone with the insurance company and verify things like, ‘Is this information still correct? Is this doctor still working at this office? Are they still in-network?’ A lot of times they won't be, or they're not accepting that insurance at this time. That time saved is hours that our members can be spending with their families or focusing on their jobs instead of making dozens of phone calls.
What advice would you give to a first-time caregiver?
Be gentle on yourself. Try to get your support system set up in the beginning, because caregiving can be a very isolating and lonely experience. You can do it yourself, but you don’t have to. You’re going to go through so many different emotions that are unexpected, but completely normal. I don't think that’s talked about enough. One day you might be tired, the next day you’re happy, and then the next day you might be angry and bitter! Just be kind to yourself as you’re going through all those. Even just being open to learning from organizations like NAMI and SAMHSA about maintaining your mental health will be so helpful.
What is a memorable Care Project that you worked on?
My favorite Care Projects are when I’m able to help someone who had really specific needs, and they probably wouldn’t have found the right mental health provider without me. I worked with someone whose partner was dying from a chronic illness and they wanted to find a grief counselor to work with. A lot of counselors don’t want to do this type of work because it’s difficult, but I was able to find one that met their needs and was so excited to have helped them in such a significant way.
How does someone know if it’s time for them to work with Wellthy? When is a good time to ask for help?
If you don’t know where to start, you should reach out to us. If you just come to us, open a Care Project, and tell us what’s going on and that you don’t know where to start, we can guide you in the right direction.
Even if the person you’re caring for isn’t ready for help, we can still help you gather resources now. If you have a loved one struggling with substance use, for example, but they’re not at the point of being willing to accept help, what we can do today is compile a list of in-network treatment centers and discuss with you what to expect when the day comes that they do ask for help."
What is one task you’d especially recommend families have Wellthy’s Care Team help you with?
Finding in-network providers – it can be so daunting and time-consuming. This morning even, I called 10 different places and none of them offered what the member I was working with was looking for. I just thought to myself, ‘How deflating it would be for this member if they had called and been told no over and over and over again.’ Finding providers and navigating insurance providers is one of the best things we do, in my opinion.
I know the lingo to use which helps too. Sometimes people think they need a rehab facility, but really they need an in-patient facility. Knowing the right places to look and the right questions to ask saves a ton of time.
What are some steps you’d recommend families take to set themselves up well for a future care situation?
I’m a big ‘list person.’ I’d recommend being honest about where you are right now and making a list of what to expect down the line and what you need to think about now. In my dad’s case with Parkinson’s, we made a list of how the disease would progress so we weren’t surprised by anything. We also quickly realized we needed my dad to provide us with his passwords and financial documentation.