By Jennifer Traglia, Gerontologist
It’s been two weeks since you last spoke to Jack. His mother, your client, has just fallen – again. This time it sounds serious. As far as you know, she is still in the hospital, with a long road of rehab ahead. Naturally, as a trusted family attorney, you feel responsible.
What will happen to the house? Will she move, or will her only son (who lives 900 miles away) set up in-home care? Surely, Jack will need to take more time off work to sort this out. If only there were a resource or professional to handle all of this…
A New Age of Aging
The statistics of our aging population are astounding. Nearly 10,000 baby boomers are turning 65 each day! The “oldest old,” those 85 and above, have more health care needs than any other age group and are proportionately the fasted growing segment of the aging population. The medical community is not the only service segment struggling to keep up with these growing demands. Due to established long-term client relationships some attorneys also see things reaching a boiling point. Estate planning and elder law firms are feeling the effects of the aging population and are increasingly being asked to act as frontline service coordinators.
Attorneys and their staff commonly find themselves caught in a complex web of family and health care dynamics as everyone tries to sort out how to provide the best care to aging clients and where to find support.
An Aging Life Care Specialist, known as “Experts in Aging Well”, and often referred to as Geriatric Care Manager, may be just the answer.
Care Management – Beyond the Hospital
Geriatric care management is a growing field of professionals, typically social workers, nurses and gerontologists, who work to support older adults and the people who care for them. They act as liaisons, health care advocates and coordinators of care and are often called upon in times of crisis. Their primary focus, however, is assessing situations and developing plans to help caregivers and families become proactive with their long-term roles so they are prepared for the unexpected. Many Care Managers (CM’s) are independent consultants and tailor their business around their professional experience and strengths, often creating tools to guide their clients.
Care management has become an increasingly common solution for many segments of the health care system. Both hospitals and insurance companies have partnered with care managers in an effort to increase quality of care and reduce costs by reducing readmissions. And, it’s working! By connecting patients at discharge with CM’s, readmissions have dropped approximately 24% within the first 30 days of discharge according to Medicare. The detailed conversations that CM’s facilitate between family members, doctors and other related senior service providers is key to this improvement. With the positive outcomes of those relationships – hospitals to insurance companies; insurance companies to CM’s; and CM’s back to health care providers – the circle of communication is complete.
Health care isn’t the only industry developing partnerships with CM’s. Many financial institutions have discovered the value-added benefit for their clients through engaging CM’s. Fisher Investments, Bank of America/Merrill Lynch and Wells Fargo have all incorporated aging specialist into their teams. Those roles are referred to as Life Planning Counselor, Director of Financial Gerontology and Vice President of Life Management Services. This trend spilled into retail as well when Amazon hired a Chief Geriatrician to better understand the aging market.
Partners in Practice
As client requests for guidance outside the law increases, the relationship between estate planning attorneys and care managers will become more important. A seasoned CM in Naperville, IL, Signe Gleason of Elder Care Solutions explained in her article “When Life gets Complicated: Professional Care Managers”, the importance of seeing the CM as part of the professional team. When attorneys are being pushed beyond their scope, care managers can step in to help. Some law firms have found care managers to be such a critical part of their practice that they are bringing them in house. Dutton & Casey in Chicago is one example of this relationship. Under their model, the CM is available at a moment’s notice when a client begins to express the need for extra guidance and support that goes beyond the office setting and may involve other key members of the client’s support/care team such as physicians and home health aides.
Due to the nature of their work with older adults and families, CM’s have an acute awareness of the importance of having a plan. They know that it is never a good idea to leave important conversations about legacy planning end-of-life care for times of crisis. In that way, CM’s are advocates for all the services that elder law and estate planning attorneys provide.
Because of this parallel purpose, it is common for geriatric CM’s to establish strong working relationships with attorneys so additional, external referrals for supportive services can be made when appropriate. Therefore, when things move beyond discussing legal documents and into the details of care coordination, CM’s can roll up their sleeves and get to work.
CM’s act as the team leader and display an ability to put all the extraneous caregiving pieces in place. In addition to providing detailed care coordination, the CM provides health care advocacy and acts as a liaison when family is unable to manage. Nothing is too big or too small for a CM: From establishing transportation options to establishing a well-rounded medical team; From coordinating improved nutritional options to coordinating quality physical or occupational therapy; From securing insurance coverage after multiple hospitalizations to securing in home care – Care Mangers have done it all.
As a trusted attorney, your clients have full confidence in you to guide them through all aspects related to their well-being. Staying informed will allow you to support your clients no matter what challenges they face.
You shouldn’t need to look far to find resources to support your efforts and it’s never too early to develop a relationship with a local care manager or other senior service providers – there are many resources at your fingertips: Elder care locator, Senior service providers, Area Agency on Aging and local church ministries to name a few. Care managers are easily found through Aging Life Care Association. Simply enter your zip code to search your area.
With the aging demographic tidal wave upon us, chances are your clients will increasingly begin to ask for your advice on resources and support. How you go about preparing for your client’s future care needs is up to you. Much may depend on the current size of your staff and style of practice you wish to present. However you decide to engage these resources, your clients, especially Jack, will thank you.
Grand Gen Resources, LLC
Jennifer Traglia, MA Gerontology is the principal of Grand Gen Resources, a Geriatric Care Management firm that specializes in supporting older adults and the people who care for them. Grand Gen Resources provides advocacy and care coordination for individuals in the Wichita, Kansas area as well as support to working caregivers across the country through a contract with Wellthy.
You can learn more about Jennifer at www.grandgenresources.com and on LinkedIn or contact her directly at 630-677-7731.