So you’d like to know even more about me? Awesome. Thanks!
Below you’ll find the story of how I came to work with older adults and later, their family caregivers. I’ll also share what was so compelling about this work that it led me to build this website.
A career in Aging never crossed my mind until the end of my first year at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. It was then that I applied for and was awarded a fellowship in Geriatrics through The New York Academy of Medicine.
Although I didn’t know it at the time this was the beginning of one of the most formative professional experiences of my life.
During the fall semester I interned at a large, urban hospital. My job was to plan discharges for older adults from the orthopedic, oncology and emergency departments.
Things got interesting during the second semester when I was allowed to make home visits to the patients I had personally discharged.
Far from the linoleum floors and fluorescent lights of the hospital, I was able to meet my patients in a new way. First, they became clients to me. And without the need for transportation or bathroom equipment to divert us, their stories emerged. Some had cognitive impairment and felt their grip on independence slipping. Others were frail but still managing with delivered meals and despite fits of loneliness. All made an indelible mark on me.
As graduation approached I wanted a job that would let me continue meeting patients in the hospital as well as their homes, but couldn’t find it. So I took a year off from social work. Then 9/11 happened and pulled me back in.
After a year of provide individual and group therapy to spouses of those lost on 9/11, my new husband and I moved to Palo Alto, CA where I took a job working with teens in a group home in a suburb of San Jose.
Feeling burnt out but immensely grateful after the experiences with the foster care system, an opportunity presented itself that felt as right to me as applying for the fellowship program had. I grabbed it and in doing so, changed so much about my life. Now at Kaiser Permanente in San Francisco, I was the only social worker assigned to patients 60 and older with complex, chronic medical conditions within an outpatient medical clinic.
For the next three years I would work side-by-side with nurses and physicians toward the goal of enhancing quality of life for my patients. Referrals would come from every direction and each one would require something different.
In response, I performed Mini-Mental Status Exams, rounded with oncologists in the hospital after the delivery of devastating news, and advocated my tail off for those who were dangerously close to slipping through the cracks. My efforts were beginning to garner respect among a large interdisciplinary team and soon my phone, which only rang occasionally in the beginning, never stopped ringing.
I had been hired to assist older adults and I was certainly doing that. But in the process I began to take notice of the needs of another group of people equally as important – family caregivers. I wanted to find ways to respond to them that would be meaningful.
Beyond providing brochures and basic answers to important questions, I began gathering families into my office to discuss what Alzheimer’s disease would mean for them.
Before long, physicians began inviting me into their exam rooms to “continue the conversation” about palliative care or hospice with overwhelmed spouses and adult children. This led to my co-leading several support groups and a steady stream of requests for brief consultations from all over.
I was soaking it in and learning all I could. I felt useful (and capable) as never before.
The last 7 years…
In 2007, my husband and I made the bittersweet decision to return to the East Coast to be closer to our own families. Once again I’d had an experience that I wanted to continue although I wasn’t sure how. As I started the job hunt I also started writing down what I had learned – material that would later become the basis for this website.
Within a few months I was hired by a federally funded program to provide supportive services to family caregivers of older adults. Shortly thereafter I became the manager and held that position for three years until funding was lost in June 2010…
These days I am the director of a large program at a large medical center. The goal of the program is to reduce preventable admission to the hospital while improving the quality of care for patients and their families. I am also a wife, mother to a 16-month old girl, and sibling-less daughter to a 79 year old woman whose social calendar is infinitely busier than my own.
If all that weren’t enough, I’m also working on a PhD in Computer Technology. Okay, not really. But building and maintaining this website from scratch without a lick of formal know-how sure makes it feel that way ;).
The funding for the inaugural year of the program I participated in was provided by the Fan Fox and Leslie R. Samuels Foundation. The following academic year (2000-2001), funding from the John A. Hartford Foundation enabled the nationwide expansion of the program which is now offered in a number of social work schools around the country.