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 Gina Baker, Senior Care Coordinator. 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?
A lot! Professionally, I was a nurse for over 15 years. I worked in the emergency department, neurocritical care, neuro stepdown, and emergency medicine. I also worked in athletic training and physical therapy. On a personal level, I have a very neurodiverse household. I have two kids with autism, a husband with ADHD, and a daughter with possible ADHD. So, I’ve dealt with a little bit of everything.
What is your personal caregiving story?
Two of my kids have autism – my daughter is high-functioning, but my son is on the opposite end of the spectrum. He was diagnosed at 2.5 years old, but from birth he missed every growth milestone. We’ve been in some type of therapy (physical, occupational, speech, music, horse, ABA, etc.) since he was about one year old. He has also seen many medical specialists in addition to the different therapies.
It was such a struggle for me early on to figure out the ropes. Even before working at Wellthy, I wanted to find ways to help other parents raising children with autism. I’m really glad that I’m able to do that now as a Care Coordinator.
What inspires you to work in caregiving?
I truly know what caregivers are going through. A big part of my story was feeling so alone. Recently, I worked on a Care Project where the dad was going through a very similar scenario with his child that I was going through with my son. Even though I couldn’t understand exactly what he was going through, I could relate to him on a level that most people couldn’t. He even cried from relief on the phone with me. I love helping others feel not alone.
What is your favorite memory of working with a Wellthy member?
I worked with a family in which the mother had passed away recently, so the grandmother adopted the older autistic child. The grandmother was completely overwhelmed and had no idea what to do with an autistic child. She was incredibly grateful to be able to talk through various issues and next steps with me.
For instance, the autistic child often had meltdowns, which many people incorrectly perceive as bad behavior or as a result of bad parenting. Helping the grandmother understand that there may have been sensory issues and triggers that she needed to recognize and address.
Also, the child hadn’t been in school for a while due to the pandemic. When the grandmother tried to re-enroll the child, the school tried to reject them, despite the fact that they legally had access to 4+ more years of school. The child wanted to learn! So, I helped advocate for the child to get back into school and eventually they were able to.
What advice would you give to someone caring for someone with autism for the first time?
First of all, pace yourself! People often feel like they have to do a million things at once and running around frantically just makes everything worse. I did not pace myself for the first two years. For the first six months of my caregiving journey, I spent an hour everyday at lunch calling for resources and finding them.
Second, you’re also never going to be perfect. There are a lot of intense standards out there and such an emphasis on perfect parenting and I definitely beat myself up for it.
How does someone know when it’s time to ask for help as a caregiver?
I think it depends where you’re at in life. Are you working full-time? Do you have other responsibilities pulling you in different directions?
In general though, ask for help early. Don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed. You don’t know what’s out there for assistance until you look (or have Wellthy help you look).
What is one task you’d definitely recommend families seek support with?
Most people don’t know how to hold the insurance companies to what they owe, what is written in the policy, or what the law says.
I helped a family get their Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapy covered by insurance even after the insurance company tried to reject their claim. I dove deep into their policy and found a part that said that ABA therapy would be covered. It may have honestly been a mistake on their part, but that’s how the policy was written. I was able to help that family get thousands of expenses covered that otherwise wouldn’t have been.
What are some steps you’d recommend families take to set themselves up well for a future care situation?
Having autism is very expensive and years ago, insurance was not covering a lot of associated costs. I didn’t know where to begin. Now that I know what I know, I would absolutely recommend that those caring for someone with autism apply for a Medicaid waiver in their state. The waiting list can be years-long. Often, it will cover many resources that keep the child in their home because it’s cheaper for the state to cover those than to fund their stay in a group home.
Also, set up an Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) account. You can start those any day and there’s a very low minimum. Start contributing to that as soon as possible. If you put money into an ABLE account, those funds won’t be counted toward your child’s assets (which could disqualify them from Medicaid).
What’s something about you that not many people know?
I provided medical support in the 2002 Olympics in the athletes village in Salt Lake City, Utah.