Category Archives: Series

Planning for All Stages of Life

Vantage Point: Tackling the Tough Subjects

My Mom tries to have this conversation with me that starts, “Shannon, if something bad happens…”

I usually cut her off. “Mom I am not ready to talk about this yet; we have time.”

The truth is if something unforeseen happens, I am not clear on her wishes.

There are many reasons any of us may need help with caring for our personal, financial, and health needs. The most common are part of the aging process. Estate planning, durable power of attorney, trustees, living wills, and guardianship all sound daunting, but their true purpose is to find the best means to care for those in need. This is possible by planning ahead now.

A health care durable power of attorney can be any person 18 or older who you trust to make health care decisions for you.  Anyone taking on the role of power of attorney, trustee, or guardian (whether they be a family member, a professional, or court-appointed) should be a good communicator and have the loyalty and commitment to follow your wishes to the best of their ability.

An estate planner can help you and those close to you understand important information, but can be expensive. Aging and Adult Care offices of Central Washington has a living will kit called “Five Wishes,” which is a legal way to document who you want to take care of you, what kind of medical treatment you want, how comfortable you want to be, how you want to be treated, and what you want your loved ones to know. That is a great option for making your wishes known.

At Health Alliance Medicare, we work hard to try to take good care of our member’s physical and mental health to ensure they have the most graceful golden years possible.  We also encourage you to think ahead to make future health care decisions that are in your best interest. This includes tackling the tough subjects, such as end of life care.  From what I have learned the topic, though hard to discuss, is too important put off.

I am going to start by asking, “Mom, just in case something bad happens…what are your wishes?”

Who Can You Call? 2-1-1

Long View: Who You Gonna Call? Think Three Little Numbers

I have a good friend at Carle who seems to have all the answers. Let’s call her Sue. Sue is a great resource for me any time I have a question about Carle. She knows the department heads, where the various offices are and how things really work. She is a seasoned and respected contact for me (and many others, I am sure). It makes me wonder where average Joes can turn when they need information and resources.

It turns out there is a place to call – 2-1-1.

The program in Central Illinois is run by PATH, Inc. (Providing Access to Help), which provides services for seniors, people who are homeless and people in need of all ages. Their offices are located in beautiful Bloomington. The PATH website describes the 2-1-1 system this way: “United Way 2-1-1 is for times of crisis, as well as for everyday needs. 2-1-1 call specialists are available 24/7 to help individuals locate health and human services in their area—from mortgage, rent, and utility assistance to food, clothing, emergency shelter, counseling, and much more.”

I spoke to Jennifer Nettleton at PATH. She is the 2-1-1/Crisis Services program manager. Many times when we need help, we need it fast.

Nettleton told me, “2-1-1 helps stop the run-around between social service agencies. Rather than calling every agency in the phone book to find out if they have the services you need, you can now call one place to help get you that information.”

Funding for the program is provided in part by United Way organizations around the state. Our local service area covers 12 counties and one city with another 20 in the pipeline. Many other states have this program in place, so Illinois is making up for lost time.

Find out more about the program. I think many people in need, perhaps some of them Health Alliance Medicare members, will be comforted to know a resource is available 24/7. Of course I could just give Sue’s phone number to everyone, but I fear she might not be my friend anymore.

Honoring a Veteran

Vantage Point: Serving Those Who Served Us

“Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.  – John F. Kennedy

I have three sons who served in the armed services, one who is still an active-duty Marine. Every word of that quote means a tremendous amount to my family. We understand how the rigors, values and experiences of serving in the military shape a life. What I did not realize—until talking with Patti Strawn, RN, CHPN, of Central Washington Home Health and Hospice—was how that service influences how a veteran faces serious illness and the end of life.

There are currently 22 million U.S. veterans, and 1 of every 4 people who dies is a veteran. 20% of Confluence Health hospice patients are veterans, and understanding how to care for them seems the least we can do to repay them for their service.

A friend is a Vietnam vet, and even when going out for dinner he always chooses a seat facing the room and an exit. Many veterans cannot stand the thought of laying flat, and for some it takes a long time just to get into bed because of feelings of being trapped or confined.

Imagine that person in a nursing home, hospital, or hospice situation.

Each veteran’s needs are unique and can be influenced by a number of factors, like which war they fought in, rank, branch, enlisted or drafted, prisoner of war and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. For some veterans, the pride of serving their country is a source of comfort at the end of life. For others, hard memories may bring up pain, emotional issues, and the need for forgiveness. The military culture of stoicism, “big boys don’t cry” and guilt for making it back when others did not can also present hurdles—especially when the inability to express those long-hidden feelings prevents a peaceful passing.

It is never too late to welcome a hero home. In celebration of Memorial Day, Health Alliance Medicare encourages you to honor veterans still with us by acknowledging their brave and selfless service, and by encouraging them to register with their local Veterans Affairs (VA) office. The VA works to make sure every single veteran has compassionate end-of-life care.

Visit WeHonorVeterans.org for additional information or resources.

Fried Chicken Diet

Long View: Why the Fried Chicken Diet Doesn’t Work

I am guessing many of you are in the same boat as me—wondering what to do about that pesky winter weight.

It’s a common problem, and I know I should do something about it. I get inspired with the first nice days of spring, but it seems by wintertime, I am adding another layer of winter warmth, so to speak.

I know many fad diets don’t work long-term. I have heard about the Paleo Diet, but I can’t picture myself eating like a caveman. The Grapefruit Diet worked for me, sort of, but only because I hate grapefruit.

Probably not the way for me to go.

When I have a question, I go to an expert, and we have one here at Health Alliance. Her name is Karen Stefaniak, and she is our wellness program administrator. She told me many diets don’t work long-term because people limit what they eat but don’t make behavior changes.

“Unfortunately most people on restrictive diets eventually gain back the weight they lost and possibly a little more,” she said. “It’s a shame to go through all that effort to end up where you started. Changes in a person’s behavior are the only way to ensure a long-term success.”

She continued: “The key to successful weight loss is to set specific goals you can reach. For example, rather than saying you are going to lose 20, set a goal to lose one pound a week. Each week, pick  a couple of things you can do that will help you lose that pound, like exercising more, limiting sweets or cutting down on snacks after dinner. Success breeds success.

“Reaching the goal of losing that first pound in week one will motivate you to keep going. You’ll begin to lose the weight slowly and at the same time learn behavior patterns that will help you keep the weight off. As always, talk with your doctor before starting any type of diet or exercise program.“

Well, Karen shared some do-able suggestions for starting a weight-loss plan. You could recruit a friend or coworker to start the journey together. I will give it a try, but I’m still hoping someone will come up with The Frito and Fried Chicken Diet. Oh wait, I am on that one now.

Wellness Visits to Prevent

Vantage Point: Wellness Visits – Well Worth Your Time

Every spring I look forward to taking my horse for a checkup. I like to hear how healthy and well taken care of he is. I cannot say I feel the same about taking time from my busy schedule for my own yearly wellness visits. Still, as I read my recent screening results and compared them to last year, I saw my scores got better. That makes me feel good about taking care of myself.

I also like the quality time I get with my doctor compared to more urgent visits when I’m sick. During the wellness exam, doctors really take the time to ask how you feel, talk about concerns and help you set health goals to help keep problem visits at bay.

Health Alliance Medicare plans cover wellness visits at no charge. Our plans also cover the routine screenings that are right for your age and gender. Please note, though, that if you bring up a problem during the wellness visit and your doctor treats or helps you deal with that problem, you might have to pay for the visit. Remember, your health is most important, so don’t be afraid to share concerns with your doctor, just be aware that doing so could change the visit from a wellness visit to something else.

Wellness (also called preventive) visits change when you move to Medicare. Medicare covers a “Welcome to Medicare” exam within 12 months of getting your Medicare Part B benefit and an annual wellness visit after that. Be sure to say you have Medicare when you schedule the exam so it is billed correctly.

Health Alliance Medicare supports members not just when they’re sick, but throughout their lives, and focuses on prevention by covering the wellness exams, immunizations, and disease screenings you need. In addition, Health Alliance Medicare may offer you a free health risk assessment with our nurse practitioner, right in the convenience of your own home. If so, I encourage you say yes to this important and free part of your coverage.

Like I do with my horse, sometimes we take care of others better than we do ourselves. But early detection of health problems through a wellness visit can save your life. The time is well worth it.

Moving Day

Long View: Tough Talks Now Can Save Hurt Feelings Later

Did you ever notice how much stuff you have packed in your house? It seems to have a life of its own! There was a point where I thought, “If I bring one more thing home, something will pop out of an upstairs window.” The thought of moving with all these treasures in tow is daunting. Imagine if you had to do so without notice or against your wishes. That would be a nightmare.

Sadly, some of our older friends and family members find themselves in that situation. They need to transition suddenly from independent living to a group or assisted-living facility, whether the move is short-term or permanent.

It seems talking about this tough situation ahead of time could save a lot of pain later.

There are some early signs that it is time to talk about moving options. Trouble getting dressed or not being able to make food are a couple of warnings that a change is in order. Sudden changes in behavior or severe forgetfulness are more alarming, and require fast action to protect your loved one.

Rosanna McLain is the director of the Senior Resource Center at Family Services of Champaign County. She advises, “Get your family member to his or her doctor so the cause of the changes can be determined, and then develop a plan of action. It’s best to talk about their wishes before the need is there.

“It’s tough to bring up sometimes, but our family members should be the drivers of their lives and make their wishes known ahead of time. Remember, you can find caregiver support programs at local senior centers and Area Agencies on Aging. Experienced specialists can help guide you through difficult times like these, so give them a call.”

There you have it. It wouldn’t hurt for all of us to plan for the future. Simplifying our lives and possessions as we go along is probably the best plan. I intend to clean out the junk room this spring. Of course I’ve had the same plan for the last three springs. Wish me luck tackling those treasures.

Senior Centers Visiting

Vantage Point: Senior Centers Offer More Than You Think

In my role at Health Alliance Medicare, I’ve had the pleasure to work with senior centers in Chelan, Grant, Douglas, and Okanogan counties.

The word “center” means a source of influence, action or force. The first senior center started in New York in 1943 to provide education and recreation. Today’s senior center is an oasis, providing familiarity in an ever-changing world for long-time members, while carefully evolving to attract the new energy and ideas of those aging in.

The senior centers I visit are very different. Some are limited on space. Others boast grand dining and dance halls. Some are open select days. Others host a full calendar of events.

Still, they all have people who go above and beyond to make life better—either working as staff or volunteering. It is remarkable how in even the smallest towns, senior center members share meals, dance or play cards. Gathering fills the centers’ walls with a camaraderie that is authentic and intoxicating.

Through senior centers visits, I have met those with cool confidence that only comes from experience. I have felt privileged to shake the hands of veterans from every branch of the military. I met a farmer turned cowboy poet. I enjoyed wonderful lunches with even more flavorful stories. I even met “Elvis” during one event—but was more inspired by the women who helped their friend dance without the use of her walker.

Before my visits, it is fair to say I had an old-fashioned idea of senior centers.

I realize now they are as diverse as the people who frequent them. Senior centers provide a space where everyday moments bring a sense of purpose, fulfillment and harmony. All share a common goal of helping people age gracefully and independently.

I believe they hold our communities’ richest treasures.

The challenge is getting people to overcome perceptions and walk through the door. If you take those first steps, you might find a room full of friends you just hadn’t met yet.