Welcome Wisdom

What our clients teach us

by Gail Arno, CMC, ECM Director of Care Management

Here we are in February 2021 and I think we all had hoped that we would turn the page from one of the most challenging years of our lives toward a healthy start fresh. So far the turn of the page has been a very slow process. We want to encourage everyone to continue to stay the course and keep the faith, things will get back to a more comfortable normal if we continue to remain diligent. Within the year this pandemic shall pass and we will all come out of this fog we have been in respecting that which we may have previously taken for granted and honoring the lives we live and those we cherish. As the pandemic continues, so does our vital work to support and advocate for those in our community most in need.

While we have supported hundreds of clients over the past decade, some stand out as the most poignant of teachers. Over the next year, we would like to share with you the stories of some of these clients and the lessons we learned from serving them.

Susan*, a young elder in her early 60’s, crossed our path when a crescendo of crises hit her normal day to day living. Through a lifetime of making poor choices, an impulsive personality trait, hoarding tendencies, and intermittent health care trials, Susan came to us in crisis. While we were able to put together a quick, stop-gap care plan to address her immediate needs, in working with her we were quickly aware of a lifetime of unaddressed issues and problems that lead her to an unsettled and challenging journey of aging. Susan tended to resolve her personal and emotional quandaries with purchases and was in a mode of constant acquiring, which ultimately led to tendencies of a classic hoarder. When we started supporting her she was living in a home that likely contributed heavily to her poor health. She couldn’t see the trappings of her mental health issues that faced her at every turn in her space; the clutter, the filth, the volume of unopened, untouched, and unfulfilling items that lay scattered throughout the entirety of her home. From corner to corner, with more orders arriving non-stop, daily.

We addressed the immediate physical needs for Susan and then turned our efforts toward unraveling the effects from a lifetime of poorly constructed and orchestrated decision making efforts. We knew we couldn’t change these firmly entrenched habits but we could intervene and surround her with the resources and services that could support her with safer, better, and kinder outcomes as she tackled the aging process. Consistent guidance, offering choices, facilitating honest discussions and arduous decision making, advocating for her needs within the medical support system that served her, and engaging her in complex conversations, supported her in a way that she had not experienced in her lifetime. Some days she balked at our interventions and recommendations, while other days she welcomed them with open arms. Often she still proceeded in the only way she really knew how, but we persevered and remained a constant anchor in her journey.

Marked improvements were made in her declining health, we brought her mental health support, and we remained at her side through the close of her life. Susan was a huge challenge in every sense of the word, but this is what we are most often tasked with and where our expertise truly shines. The whole person, the unique needs of our clients, and our collaborative approach to navigate each and every case we take on. Next month we chronicle the impact that the lack of established support systems and entrenched, strained family relationships had on Susan’s life and the efforts our Care Managers took on her behalf to overcome those obstacles.

*names have been changed to protect the client’s identity