Category Archives: Series

Starting with New Beginnings

My Healthy Journey: New Beginnings

Hi blogosphere! I’m here for new beginnings!

My name is Allison Shields, and I started working for Health Alliance as the web copywriter in July. That means that I work on our social media, this blog, and our websites.

I turn 25 this month, and I’m probably pretty unhealthy. I worked at Starbucks before coming here, so I have a pretty good caffeine addiction. I don’t eat regular meals, and one of my favorite snacks is still candy. I love to cook, but I don’t do it nearly often enough. I regularly skip meals because of time constraints and to keep from putting on weight instead of changing my eating habits.

I was an athlete ten years ago, but college and adulthood have distracted me from making my health a priority. Before this job, I didn’t have the money for a gym membership, and I never work out.

I envy all the energy I had as a teenager. These days when I get home from work, all I want to do is curl up with a glass of wine in front of my TV or computer. I regularly feel exhausted by 8 p.m.

I used to love reading, crafting, and walking around Chicago during college. Now I feel like I don’t even make the time for little things I used to love. I worry that I’m wasting the years when developing healthy habits and a balanced lifestyle would be easiest.

Luckily for me, Health Alliance is a company that will help me make some changes in the way I live my life. Not only am I off my parents’ health insurance for the first time, but Health Alliance also has regular challenges for our employees, like the 19-Day Arm Challenge that I will be doing and recording here over the next month, so you can work out alongside me.

We also have a brand new tool for our members called Rally, which I’m going to start using here, with you. Rally is an online experience that helps you improve your health in small ways every day and rewards you along the way.

I’m not very far into Rally yet. So far I’ve only completed the first step, which is taking a simple test that tells you your Rally age based on your health.

It has a lot of easy questions, things like your weight and height, how many fruits and vegetables you eat each day, and some simple things about your prescriptions and healthcare use.

I was very happy to learn that my Rally age is 25, which I turn soon. While my bad habits haven’t created a huge deficit yet, I know these things will take a toll on me in the long run, so I’m still determined to start making changes.

After you’ve taken the health assessment, Rally creates recommendations for you for missions and communities. In the next few days, I will be picking out challenges to begin, and I will be back to walk you through some of the great ways you can start making little changes too!

Hurry and take the assessment and join me in my healthy journey today!

Active Aging

Long View: Active Aging Week Encourages Health into Golden Years

As I get older, I have noticed the changes that come with it. I think the one I notice the most lately is inertia. You find yourself sitting down to open the mail and not getting up for the rest of the evening. OK, it happens to all of us once in a while. My concern is inertia may become my hobby unless I take action.

The International Council on Active Aging sponsors an annual event called Active Aging Week. Its website explains, “Led by the International Council on Active Aging® (ICAA), Active Aging Week is an annual health promotion event held each year during the last week of September. The weeklong observance celebrates adults ages 50 and older as fully participating members of society and promotes the benefits of leading an active, healthier lifestyle. It also highlights the ability of older adults to live well, regardless of age or health conditions.”

It got me thinking which of my family members had the best quality of life as they aged. The dividing line was very clear. The active (some would say hyperactive) ones who kept a healthy weight were the ones who made the most of their mature years. The sofa-sitters aged well into their 80s, but didn’t get the same enjoyment from their golden years. The prospect of that fate was enough to get me up and moving again.

And now the disclaimer: As with any type of exercise, it’s important to talk to your doctor to make sure you choose an activity safe for you. I started with a 15-minute walk in the morning and another 15-minute walk in the evening after work.  It’s no marathon, but it’s doable and even enjoyable in good weather. I miss my walks when our Central Illinois climate doesn’t cooperate. Plus, I am seeing results and notice I feel better overall.

Health Alliance Medicare is working with Clark-Lindsey (a continuing care retirement community in Urbana) to sponsor an Active Aging Week from September 21-27. As the hosts, we can craft a program of activities that suits our own community (and weather). Maybe you would consider doing something similar in your area.

If you have any questions, I would be happy to help. Or visit Clark-Lindsey’s website and click on “news and events” for more information. It’s time to get moving!

Blind Prespective

Vantage Point: Local Organization Puts Struggles of Blind in Plain Sight

During my outreach travels for Health Alliance Medicare, I’ve been blown away by the beauty of the sun rising over the cornfields of the Columbia Basin and eagles nesting along the Wenatchee River. Recently meeting Jodi Duncan of Samara’s Foundation for the Blind and Visually Impaired, however, inspires me to never take my sight for granted.

Jodi founded Samara’s, named after her daughter who developed juvenile diabetes at age 9 and began losing her vision in her early 20s. Before passing from the disease in 1995, Samara asked her mom, “How come they can’t help people like me?”

In Jodi’s grief, she took that question to heart.

The foundation’s mission is to give people with sight impairments the opportunity to improve their quality of life and further learning through advocacy and technological support. Samara’s work includes providing audio crosswalks, Braille printers, magnifying equipment, teacher training programs, and camp opportunities for all ages. Samara’s outreach within Chelan, Douglas, Grant, and Okanogan counties relies on funding from events that Jodi’s small army of volunteers organize and facilitate.

One of the biggest myths about Samara’s foundation is that a person in need has to rent the equipment. All equipment is loaned free of charge, and 100 percent of the money Samara’s raises stays local. Some fundraisers include a quilt raffle or a “Dinner in the Dark,” where participants eat blindfolded.

For information or for ways to support Samara’s, please call 509-470-8080 or visit Samaras.org.

Through my work at Health Alliance Medicare, I regularly get the opportunity to help connect people to valuable community resources. But in meeting Jodi, I could not help but be especially touched as tears still well in her eyes while talking about her daughter. This showed me the foundation named in Samara’s honor is more than just a non-profit—it is the work of a mother’s eternal love.

Terms Jumble

Long View: Don’t Let Lingo Keep You from the Care You Need

When I was (considerably) younger, I read that a concert I wanted to attend was “SRO.” I was certain that meant “Sold Right Out,” and there was no way we could go. I was disappointed, but hey, you can’t win them all. Years later a friend told me another show was “SRO,” and I only then found out it meant “Standing Room Only.” My misunderstanding became the source of much merriment.

Industry-specific terms, acronyms and lingo are common in almost every business. I know the health insurance business has a lot, but have you ever heard two electricians talk? What about computer repair technicians? It’s all foreign to me.

Terminology, acronyms, and lingo are simply shortcuts for information-sharing between people in the same business. They are not meant to exclude others, but they do. The difference between the terms “copayment” and “coinsurance” can seem small, unless you are the person paying the bill. So, what can we insiders do to lessen the impact and be more inclusive?

About two years ago, Health Alliance started an internal plain language push. We took a close look at our written materials—brochures, guidebooks, letters, our website, and more—and realized we could make things easier to understand. We simplify or explain industry lingo, without losing the important information.

If you’re on the receiving end of lingo, stop and ask for clarification. If that is not possible, jot down a note so you can follow up on your own. This is especially important with your health care. Make sure you understand what your doctors tell you. They are insiders to the medical world, so they might not realize you need more explanation. Always ask questions if you’re confused. Your doctor will appreciate you taking the time to make sure you understand so you can take good care of yourself.

I am sure some of you are frightened to know I am learning how to text on my smartphone. Many of you are familiar with this digital language and its acronyms and lingo, but it’s new to me. Don’t worry, I was pointedly told “LOL” doesn’t mean “lots of love.” LAL (Live and Learn).

(Give this word search on commonly used insurance terms and their definitions a try!)

Up-Serving Together

Vantage Point: Up-Serving is a Win-Win

Most people have heard of up-selling, but what about up-serving? Up-serving is doing more for people than they expect. As the community liaison for Health Alliance Medicare, I have been fortunate to work with many people who continually go above and beyond to improve our communities.

I am nearing my one-year anniversary at Health Alliance Medicare and have been thinking of all the amazing things we’ve accomplished together. I’m so thankful for the chance to work together and enhance the lives of North Central Washington seniors, be it holding a health fair, promoting education, providing resources, or volunteering.

The fun social activities inspire me, like being invited to two-step and waltz at the Okanogan Senior Center dance or attending Friday’s senior coffee and chat at the Wellness Place. How nice to have no agenda except to gather and enjoy each other’s company! There I met Lois, who showed me the scars she still has from floating down the Wenatchee River on an inner tube, and 92-year-old Don, who randomly breaks out in song.

I have met and worked with so many wonderful people, including one of our members who oversees the Cashmere museum. When he saw what the combined spirit of a community could accomplish, he could not help but volunteer.

Recently Les Schwab had a “Do the Right Thing” contest, and I nominated a local dentist. When he heard one of our members needed dental care but couldn’t afford it, he graciously volunteered his services. Upon winning the monetary award, the dentist then paid it forward to community causes he supports.

At Health Alliance Medicare we strive to up-serve by going above and beyond for our members.

Our homey Fifth Street office in Wenatchee is purposeful in its role to provide truly local customer service, but also personal as our members can come in to get face-to-face help. Per one of our members, “It is just reassuring to know it is there.”

I want to personally say thank you for allowing me to partner in the ideas, energies, and resources to improve the communities we serve. I am excited to see what our continued collaboration can accomplish. When we up-serve, we all win.

Cleaning Meds Out of the Cabinet

Long View: Leave Prescribing to the Pros – Don’t Mix Your Meds!

I used to visit my aunt and uncle in Missouri whenever I got the chance. They were older but still lived on their own. My uncle Bill took a lot of medicine, as is often the case with a 90-year-old. The problem was my aunt, his caregiver, felt she knew better than his doctor.

She would cut his pills in half because she thought they were making him “groggy.” She also would “prescribe” outdated meds. I found my aunt’s secret stash in a shoe box in the closet.

Both of them also took over-the-counter meds … to keep their joints limber, eyesight sharp and other things she was sure would enhance their golden years. Her approach was dangerous, but I could only help while I was there.

So, what can a caregiver do?

Brad Berberet, acting director of the Health Alliance Pharmacy Department, shared this advice.

“Many people know different drugs can interact with each other, causing unexpected side effects,” he said. “However, most people forget that interactions can occur between prescribed medications and over-the-counter (OTC) medications and herbal supplements.  Patients should let their doctor and their pharmacist know about all OTC and herbal supplements they are taking, especially when they start a new medicine.”

Our chief medical officer, Dr. Robert Parker, shared similar advice.

“When you take medication exactly as prescribed, your doctor can better monitor you for side effects,” he said. “It’s important to be honest with your doctor to assure you have the best chance of a positive, not harmful, impact to yourself or those you love.”

You can help your loved ones get rid of old medicine. Don’t just flush them. Check for places that dispose of drugs safely, like your pharmacy or hospital. Your local senior center may have suggestions.

My PCP does a medicine review every time I have an appointment. Just keeping a list of how much medicine you take and when helps your doctor. You can ask your doctor to make changes to your list so it stays current.

While I’m sure my aunt had the best intentions, her approach to medicine was dangerous. Be sure to talk with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any new medicine, prescription or over-the-counter. Not only will you avoid harmful interactions, but you will probably feel better, too.

Balancing Daily Tasks with Dementia

Vantage Point: Summer Activity Opens Eyes, Prompts Compassion

I love all the fun activities that come with summer—festivals, parades, vacations, theme parks, and backyard barbecues. One of my recent summer activities, however, was unlike any I’ve ever done before, and the profound experience will resonate with me for the rest of my life.

I had the opportunity to watch a video of the Virtual Dementia Tour®, compliments of Assured Home Health and Hospice in Moses Lake. The tour gives family members and professional caregivers the chance to experience (as closely as possible) the physical, mental, and emotional challenges people with dementia face every day.

Before the tour, the group takes a short pretest. One of the questions is, “Do you think people with dementia are justified in their actions?” The answer choices are “yes,” “no” and “somewhat.” Most people answer “somewhat.”

After the pretest, the activity alters the participants’ mental and physical abilities when they put on these items.

  • Goggles that restrict their vision, as if they have macular degeneration
  • Headphones with garbled or random background noises, like people with mental disorders experience
  • Gloves with the fingers taped together and with popcorn kernels in the fingertips, and shoes with popcorn kernels in the toes, to represent neuropathy and arthritis

The group then goes to another room. Organizers give participants five everyday tasks, like sorting laundry and setting the table, to complete without help in a certain time frame.

Watching the people go through the experience made me think of being in a carnival maze, where you have a warped sense of bearings, balance, and judgment.

Most participants find the experience eye-opening. Even if they thought they knew what to expect, many didn’t anticipate bursting into tears of frustration or falling on the ground in confusion. Many change their pretest answer about behavior being justified from “somewhat” to “yes” in the post-test.

If you have a loved one with dementia or are a caregiver, I suggest you take the Virtual Dementia Tour. If you live in Grant County and want to sign up for a tour through Assured Home Health and Hospice, please call Julie Johnson at 509-766-2580 or Terri Riley-Brown at 509-765-1856.

ABC’s Nightline featured a powerful story about the Virtual Dementia Tour.  If you don’t take the tour, you can still see what the experience is like by watching this clip.

I hope you make fun memories with family and friends this summer. I also hope you take time to either watch the Nightline clip or sign up for the Virtual Dementia Tour so we can all increase our understanding and compassion for people with dementia.