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 Susie Armstrong, Care Manager. 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 professional background in?
My degree is in Health Education and I always knew I wanted to work with kids. After college, I worked in a children’s psychiatric hospital for 3-4 years, which was amazing. Then I worked in an attorney’s office where my job was to appeal cases where private insurance rejected paying for children’s medical bills. I continued to work on medical and mental health insurance claims for about 15 years, becoming an expert in private insurance and healthcare. I’m not an attorney or nurse, but sometimes friends think I am because I know all the ins and outs of the system!
What is your personal caregiving story?
My dad had dementia, which was so overwhelming – we had no family history of it. My mom was his primary caregiver and they were in New York, while I lived in Atlanta, Georgia.
One of the toughest parts was my dad would call me all the time asking where my mom was, even though she was sitting right next to him. He would say, “Your mom left me, she’s gone. There’s another lady here who makes me dinner and gives me my medication but I don’t know who she is and I just want your mom to come back.” It was gut-wrenching.
My parents moved south to be closer to my brother and me. My dad would ask me questions about things that already happened, like where I was going to go to college. I started to worry more about my mom than my dad because of how grueling caregiving became for her. My dad would sometimes get up in the middle of the night, get dressed, and leave the house. She could never sleep.
To relieve her workload, I stepped in and helped out a lot. We started exploring memory care centers and had no idea what we were looking for. We didn’t know what to ask or how to determine if a facility was good or not. We went in and let the people sell it to us, which felt good enough in the short-term, but ultimately didn't work. We had to move him a few times, which made it a very tough 4-5 years.
What inspires you to work in caregiving?
On top of my caregiving scenario with my dad, my nephew (Max) was born with a very rare condition called Cockayne Syndrome. Max was expected to pass away before he reached two years of age, but he ended up living until he was 23 which was amazing. My brother stayed home with Max for the last two years of his life. We helped as much as we could, but I didn’t have the knowledge or resources that I have now.
I went through both of these caregiving scenarios without access to experts and support, so now, it’s my mission to provide as much care and assistance as possible to the families that we support on a daily basis. I’ve been there – I felt completely overwhelmed and had no idea what to do next. With regards to health insurance and benefits, there’s so much you can do when you know the right spots to look in.
What is your favorite memory of working with a Wellthy member?
A woman reached out about finding a new assisted living facility for her sister – she was losing weight, had little interaction with others, and was slowly dying there. The facility was across the country, so there was just a ton for the family to coordinate. After working together, we found a residential facility where her sister lived with six other people and it was a much better fit.
Once that issue was resolved, we paused the Care Project in case the family needed anything else. About two years later, they did in fact need help moving her to a new facility again because she had so much energy and she now needed a facility with a lot of activities available. I was so happy to help this family again! Needs change and facilities are not a one-size-fits-all.
What advice would you give to a first-time caregiver?
Look into resources available in your community, through your county and state. Contact your town hall and find out what different support systems are available and what your family qualifies for.
For example, there’s a big push in our country to keep our loved ones at home instead of moving them into facilities. So, there will often be programs with different benefits, like providing 20 hours/week of in-home care. It might not be medical care, but it’s enough to help with meal prep, clean the house, etc.
What difference has Wellthy’s support made in our members’ lives?
It’s night and day – when we get involved, we take away all the additional stressors off the shoulders of the caregiver and their family. We know what’s out there and it’s not just me helping your family. We have a whole team behind us called Care Advisers who are experts in every relevant field. Knowing we have this expertise, I feel comfortable telling families “We got this,” and that they can relax now knowing we have their backs. Families often write back to me that they feel like they can finally breathe again.
What is one task you’d definitely recommend families seek support with?
Definitely questions related to Medicare or Medicaid. These offices are very tricky to navigate and get through to, especially since the pandemic. You really have to know what you’re talking about and give them the right answers on your application. While we don’t fill the applications out for families, we can give them every possible detail they need.
What are some steps you’d recommend families take to set themselves up well for a future care situation?
Be proactive – brainstorm about the things that might possibly come up over the next six months. For example, if a hip surgery is coming up for your father in the next six months, start thinking about transportation and meal delivery options now. There are things that you might not realize you can take off your plate in advance so you can put those things on autopilot when the time comes.
Tell us a fun fact about you.
My husband also works for Wellthy as a legal specialist! We met when I worked at a law firm earlier in my career. Fast forward a few years, when he saw what I was doing at Wellthy and how rewarding my work was, he decided to come to Wellthy too. He went to the University of Georgia, so we spend a lot of our time watching college football. When I moved down here, it was definitely a culture shock!