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 Christie Burton, a Care Coordinator with a background in physical therapy and rehab. 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.
What is your background in?
I am a trained physical therapist, specifically in geriatric care – I specialized in balance and fall prevention. I’ve worked in a variety of settings like acute care hospitals, skilled home health services, skilled nursing facilities, and rehab departments.
At Wellthy I love working with the senior population and home health, and using my expertise to help families who don’t know what they don’t know. They do their best to provide help for their loved one, but need assistance to know what services are available to them, what insurance covers, and how to get those services. Most physicians don’t have the time to help families the way we do. I enjoy giving families the satisfaction of knowing they’ve done everything they can.
What is your personal caregiving story?
I was a long-distance caregiver for both of my parents who lived 550 miles away from me. When caring for them, I made a lot of long distance phone calls for their home healthcare and spent a lot of time getting my mom transitioned into assisted living this past fall. A lot of the talking to the physicians was behind the scenes and my parents didn’t even know how much I was doing.
I stayed with my mom for two weeks to get her settled, obtain her durable medical equipment (DME), and set her up with a pharmacy that would deliver her daily pill packs. For a while, I visited them every week for six weeks to prepare meals, clean the house, and do laundry.
For the longest time, my mom did not want help hired in place of me coming down there for a while. She finally agreed to hire someone who started by doing yard work for her, and then as she got comfortable with him, he took her to her appointments, the grocery store, and on any other errands.
What advice would you give to a first-time caregiver?
Form a team and make a plan within the family to divide the responsibilities. Make a shared calendar or use a caregiving app. My sister and I split things up by me taking all the medical responsibilities, and her taking all the financial ones. Like when my mom passed away, my sister made sure to have all of her passwords ready. My mom was getting hacked a lot, so my sister kept an eye on her credit card usage.
Do you have any advice for those struggling to delegate caregiving duties within the family?
We’re starting to go through this with my husband’s family. I encouraged him to make a family calendar. This helped everyone see when people would be out of town, or people could write in when they planned to visit or do a chore. It also helped show everyone just how much my husband’s sister was doing that we didn’t always see. It evens the playing field a lot more when everyone can see the entire list of what needs to be done.
What difference have you seen Wellthy make in our members’ lives?
Wellthy is a place to be listened to by professionals who understand and have the knowledge to find solutions to their caregiving challenges. We’re often working on tasks that if the member was doing themselves, they’d have to take a day off of work – just to research and make phone calls!
Oftentimes, families don't know what to ask or what they should be looking for. So it's helpful for them to be able to have a professional like me or another Care Coordinator call on their behalf.
Do you have a favorite moment from working with a member?
I worked with a family whose father had a long-term care insurance policy. He was living at home but went to the hospital and then into assisted living. His policy denied his coverage, saying that he was evaluated and didn’t need this kind of support. We were able to obtain the clinical documents from his assisted living facility and appealed the decision on the grounds that he was more than qualified to receive this kind of care. We won and saved him thousands of dollars for this care. I think in this case, my knowledge of clinical rehab was really important in identifying that he should have been covered and what we would need to prove that. He had a swallowing impairment and he couldn’t dress himself, and you usually need assistance with two ADL’s (activities of daily living) in order to qualify.
How do families know when it’s time to move a loved one into a facility?
Safety is the #1 indication – if they can’t keep themselves safe in their home or they’re wandering, that’s a red flag. Second, if the care recipient is often agitated or the duties become too much of a burden for the caregivers, it may be time to enlist help. If you’re noticing these signs, open a Care Project so we can help you figure out the right fit home for your loved one in your budget. Based on what’s important to you, like a more stimulating environment where they work on memory skills, we can find you a good fit.
What is one task you’d especially recommend families have a Care Coordinator help you with?
If there’s one thing I think people really need to put in place, it’s having all your legal documents in place before a health crisis or cognitive issues occur. Once cognitive issues are evident and well-documented, a lawyer won’t be able to help you if the person is not mentally capable. Have us help you on a Care Project put these documents together and then make sure someone in the family knows where they are and can access them.
What are some steps you’d recommend families take to set themselves up well for a future care situation?
First, look around at potential living facilities now – get a feel for what might be a match so that if and when a crisis does occur, that’s one less thing to worry about. We can’t predict when a health crisis will hit. It could be while you’re out of town or sooner than you think.
Second, know where all your documentation is – bank account information, stock certificates, social security card, the original will to their property, and any other end-of-life planning documents.
There’s a tendency for people to say “There isn’t a lot involved in settling an estate,” but you’d be shocked how much work there is involved. For my mom, we had all the papers in place and it was still a long process. It was almost like a second job.
How do you handle resistance to discussing these topics?
With my own mom, I found it helpful to pose examples. I would say things like “My friend just recently went through this and has had a hard time finishing out the estate because they didn’t know where the documentation was to allow them to sell the home. Are there any things you’d be comfortable with doing now to get your estate affairs in order?” It took about three spaced-out conversations to finally accomplish some progress. It won’t happen overnight.
I had to ask my mom, “Well what happens if you’re incapacitated?” She wasn’t thinking about this scenario. It took about two years for her to finally put us on her checking account, which was a start. I had to keep using examples with her like, “Let’s say you had a stroke and could no longer speak and manage your checkbook. How would my sister and I do this?”