“Sherlin has been building a relationship with Bill for two years. She knows what gets him up in the morning—what’s important to him. And because she knows him so well, she’s been able to help him fulfill his goal of staying in his home and out of the hospital,” says Hilary Frank, Lifespark’s Director of CORE Operations for Population Health.
Bill the Person
Bill lives with several chronic health conditions. And though Sherlin is an experienced nurse and Bill’s Life Manager, her talks with him venture way beyond his illness. She doesn’t see Bill as a guy in need of medical care. He’s a guy who loves his wife, his dog, and trips to the cabin. When he describes the German food his mom used to make, his eyes twinkle. He’s got some life-limiting health conditions and likes to garden.
Sherlin sees Bill as a whole person. Not just because she loves getting to know people. It’s because this bigger-picture approach improves lives. Reduces health crises. Sparks joy. Gives the whole person more control over their whole life.
“She’s a friend,” says Bill. “We talk a lot about problems that come up. We don’t have to keep them in.”
See Something, Do Something
Think about it. The more Sherlin knows about Bill, the faster she can recognize subtle changes in his behavior—possibly indicating a health concern. What if one day he doesn’t seem interested in spending time with the grandkids he loves? Or he turns down her offer to take him out to eat at his favorite Country Kitchen? It could be nothing. Maybe he just didn’t get enough sleep the night before. But Sherlin would want to keep an eye on things. By staying connected to Bill, she can help him get the care he needs before the situation becomes a crisis.
For instance, by asking the right questions, Sherlin discovered that Bill’s glucometer had been broken for quite some time. He hadn’t mentioned it to his doctor, meaning Bill was no longer able to check his blood sugar. Sherlin contacted his doctor to get a prescription for the device so it would be covered by insurance. She also worked with the pharmacy to get him the specific model he needed. Now he’s back on track, monitoring his blood sugar every single day.
Always quick with a joke, Bill says this about Sherlin: “The only thing she can’t help us with is when the fish don’t bite. She don’t help a darn bit with that!”
Lifespark is a big believer in taking a proactive approach to health care. Unfortunately, the traditional health care system operates on a more reactive basis.
The Health Care System Isn’t Enough
Before Bill met Sherlin, he spent lots of time in hospitals and ERs. He was being treated by health care experts using the latest technology. And still, he couldn’t get off the roller coaster. As his doctors dealt with each crisis, he’d get to go home, only to bounce back into emergency care with another urgent problem soon after.
It’s how the ride often goes for seniors. They fall into a downward spiral because of limitations in the current health care system. Specialists in hospitals are stretched too thin. They don’t have the option of getting to know their patients (at Lifespark, we say people or clients) well enough to spot nuances like changes in mood or energy level. Most health care workers spend only minutes at a time with their patients. And because they don’t have assessment tools to evaluate all the vital components of a person’s life, they can miss important factors, leading to additional health problems.
Lifespark Is Changing Things Up
At Lifespark, we’re working to fill that gap. We’re spending the time. We’re building the relationships. We’re there to notice when a person is having trouble taking their right meds at the right time or has stopped organizing the bridge club. And we find out why. We’re recognizing problems early on so we can pull in appropriate resources to keep people healthier and happier.
“Health care workers have a calling to serve people,” says Hilary, “and they catch a glimpse of humanity. But they don’t necessarily have the ability to build relationships. The system is fast-paced. In a hospital, they’re not measuring life satisfaction, purpose, or a person’s identity. Understanding those nuances—and prioritizing them—is how Lifespark helps people manage their health and wellbeing on their terms.”
“At the time I started working with Bill,” says Sherlin, “he and his wife, Amelia, didn’t understand how some of their choices were affecting their quality of life. And that’s one thing I could do for them. Help them understand.”
About a year into working with Sherlin, Bill was given a hospice consultation through his hospital. But he and Amelia weren’t ready for that change and had no intention of signing onto hospice services. As a Life Manager at Lifespark, a primary role for Sherlin is to respect Bill’s choices. She wants him to get everything he wishes for out of life. That said, she knew that hospice could give him some of the things he wished for. She recognized that he wasn’t quite understanding the difference that hospice could make.
“Because of the relationship we’d built, and after many hard, emotional conversations, they decided to have another hospice consult,” says Sherlin. “Bill went onto hospice. And now he’s so glad he did.”
Hospice has eased Bill’s way quite a bit and helps him get more out of life. He hadn’t been able to go to his cabin because he couldn’t afford the oxygen supplies he’d need up there. Now hospice pays for the oxygen set-up, and trips to this favorite spot are possible again. “Lots of times people with health problems feel bad about what they can’t do. I like to remind them what they can do.” Bill was also tired of having to go to the hospital so often. Now he feels grateful to be cared for at home instead.
Good news: Bill hasn’t been in the hospital since May of 2020!
This hospice example is just one of many ways Sherlin has helped Bill get back to doing things he considers important in life. Because of the trust she’s built, she’s become a go-to resource, educating him on ways to make those important things happen. For instance, she’s helped him realize how much better he’d feel by eating less salt. He also hadn’t understood the normal range for his blood sugar or the easy steps he could take to help regulate his blood sugar.
With Sherlin’s guidance, Bill can do a better job of maintaining his wellness instead of getting into trouble and having to react to a health crisis. “Bill is a lot better than he was last year,” says Amelia. “We have this exercise bike now. We both get on the bike and work on getting better by exercising.”
“Yeah,” says Bill, chuckling. “Sherlin stands there with a whip!” “But it’s only a little whip,” says Sherlin. Kidding aside, Bill has made lots of exciting life changes:
- Rides his exercise bike consistently
- Records his weight and blood pressure in a notebook every day
- Socializes more with friends
- Feels less stressed
- Doesn’t live with an overshadowing fear of hospital trips
- Knows what to expect so he can make plans
“She makes me feel better and get better,” says Bill.
According to Sherlin, “He’s off the roller coaster now, working with his health problems instead of against them.”
Once a Life Manager like Sherlin understands a person’s priorities and has earned their trust, she can assist them in making a life plan. Not in crisis because they suddenly have to, but in a thoughtful, relaxed way. What do they want their living will to look like? Who should be their Power of Attorney? She’s here to help them set long-term goals for themselves. Says Bill, “She does whatever it takes. Whatever’s coming up, she helps solve it.” “He’s living on his own terms,” says Sherlin. “He chooses life all the time now.”
A Picture’s Worth a Zillion Words
Sherlin was so filled with the joy of that particular visit that she came home and started to draw. She drew a man to represent Bill (pictured on right). Then she began adding the most important aspects of his life as she’d come to know them—the parts that made Bill, Bill. Yes, some of them pertained to his health. But the more colorful aspects were equally important.
The inspiration for Sherlin’s drawing came from a tool that Lifespark uses to describe the difference between what the current health care system provides (reactive care that only addresses PART of a person’s life) and what Lifespark brings (proactive care for EVERY part of a person’s life).
“I tell him all the time that he’s my champion! He’s doing everything I’ve encouraged him to do. He and Amelia are so happy. They’re living life the way they want it with the support they need.”
Compassion and Statistics
As a person loses their good health, they grieve that loss. Maybe their body and mind aren’t working like they used to. At Lifespark, we create and nurture relationships that improve health and ease emotional pain as well.
What’s the most important thing Sherlin brings to Bill’s life? We asked him that very question. He thought for a moment and said, “Hope.”
“One thing I do is spark people to think about what they’ve accomplished,” says Sherlin. “I get them to tell me their beautiful, amazing stories. When they start talking about those stories, their arthritis hurts a little less and they can breathe a little better. They remember to dream. And they have hope for what will happen tomorrow.”
By creating long-term, meaningful relationships, we spark lives. And though we haven’t run the numbers on the exact increase in smiles and contented sighs, we do know that a whole person approach to health care reduces hospitalization by 43%. And that’s why we’re so passionate about what we do.
We’d love to answer your questions about the Lifespark difference. Please feel free to contact us, 24/7.