Club learns about patient advocacy

Attendees of the April 7 monthly meeting of the GFWC/OFWC Woman’s Club of Steubenville got something to take home with them.

It was a larger size Ziploc bag to accommodate and protect what can be two important pieces of paper containing important information.

One was a page providing space to list “contacts, doctors, diagnoses and surgeries.”

The other piece of paper was for a “medicine list and allergies.”

It was all part of a practical presentation to inform, remind and encourage club members to be patient advocates for themselves or for others should that be the case, such as a spouse, a child, a relative, a neighbor, etc.

The club’s noon business and luncheon meeting at the Steubenville Country Club featured a presentation on patient advocacy by guest speakers Eileen Jones, accompanied by Janice Watzman, both of whom worked together in case management with Highmark before their retirement. Watzman is the daughter of club member Dolores Dooley.

Jones, who now works as a community nurse with Allegheny-Kiski Health Foundation, defined an advocate as “one who watches over their loved one to optimize care and minimize mistakes” and “one who pleads for or helps another.” It was a situation familiar to her as she was an advocate on behalf of her mother during five hospital stays in as many years.

The advocate role is one not just when a patient is in the hospital, though, but also in a nursing home setting or doctor’s office, for example, or in the home, too, according to Jones, who schooled the members on how to be an effective advocate.

Asking questions is critical – even if that means more than once to clearly understand something. “It’s dumber not to ask,” emphasized Jones, who advocated “ask until you understand” and “do not be afraid to question.”

She said it’s also important to learn how to observe; to remain emotionally steady and polite when faced with uncertainty and stress; and to keep the ill person informed if his or her physical condition allows it.

Jones encouraged members to be proactive, not reactive.

Insurance information, medical history, a medicine list and allergies, advance directives and family or friend contacts all constitute information to have at hand and up to date, according to Jones.

That’s goes for insurance information, too. Many people don’t know what their insurance provides until they go to use it, including their deductible, she said. In cases of an emergency admission, for example, people should have their most current insurance card and supplemental card with them. If they don’t have insurance, they should speak with a social worker immediately. For those with Medicare they should speak with a social worker or the billing office to be clear on co-pays and covered days.

A patient’s history includes diagnoses, surgeries and doctors; a medicine list and allergies should note prescribed medications taken in addition to over-the-counter medicines or herbs; and important legal information would mean an advance directive/living will, medical power of attorney, financial power of attorney and a do-not-resuscitate order.

Important contacts would include phone numbers of next of kin or if there are none, a friend or power of attorney.

Jones referred to the plastic bag and paper as the springboard for compiling and storing all this information, with the person’s name and date written on the outside. It can be taped to the inside of a refrigerator/freezer, according to Jones, who advised “make sure someone knows where these papers are kept and make sure you take these papers to the hospital with you.”

Jones listed patient rights as “considerate, respectful and safe care; well informed about your illness and treatments; consent to or refuse to a treatment; have an advance directive; right to privacy; expect that treatment records are confidential; review your medical records; and consent or decline to take part in research.

For the patient in a facility, an advocate on his or her behalf needs to speak with everyone from the physician in attendance and consulted physicians, nurses, social workers and case manager to the billing department, dietician and housekeeping.

The advocate also might have need if the patient is admitted to a facility to care for pets, handle mail and newspapers, take care of bills and payments and cancel appointments the ill person may have made.

A critical question to ask, Jones said, is whether a patient’s status is inpatient or observation. The status can change during a hospital stay and can make a major difference in discharge planning, especially if Medicare insurance is involved.

When a patient is discharged, the advocate needs to understand discharge instructions, medications, equipment needs, followup care and nursing care needs such as home care or physical therapy, for example.

End-of-life care also needs to be addressed, according to Jones, which would be hospice care – inpatient or outpatient – and palliative care.

While advocates look after the needs of another, advocates also have needs, chief among them to take care of themselves, she said.

Peggy D’Albenzio and Terri English served as hostesses and greeters at the meeting where Donna Keagler, first vice president and program chair, presided at the business meeting in the absence of Kathy Mills, president.

Guests were introduced, including Hope Kurtz of Charity Hospice.

Two new members to the club were introduced – Michelle Garcia Miller and Kim Zifzal. They will be officially inducted at the June meeting.

Eleanor Weiss gave the meditation and prayer.

Shirley Valuska gave a report on Southeast Ohio District Legislation Day held in March and hosted by the Woman’s Club of Mingo.

Keagler noted the club received first place in public issues for its health care forum held last June and expressed hopefulness that it would fare well in competition at the state convention.

Keagler reminded members the club is continuing to collect used eyeglasses, canceled stamps and tabs from beverage cans.

The club’s May 5 luncheon and meeting that begins at noon at the Steubenville Country Club will be preceded by a 10:45 a.m. board meeting.

“Fracking, Oil, Gas and Coal and their Effects” is the topic of the program to be presented by James Slater, a retired chemistry professor from Franciscan University of Steubenville, and Tom Gentile, Jefferson County commissioner who is associated with Ohio River Collieries in Bannock.