mmLearn.org: Providing education, support to caregivers


 (Note: This is the second in a series of videos and articles profiling the three winners of this year’s $350,000 Humana Communities Benefit grants.)

Those with Alzheimer’s face a long, lonely and uncertain journey, often falling into deep depression as the disease robs them of their memories and independence. The sense of loss and severed connections takes a profound and devastating physical and emotional toll on those battling the disease as well as their family and caregivers.

Joyce Hernandez, a professional caregiver for a man with Alzheimer’s, was struggling to understand the baffling and heart-breaking stages of the progressive disease. Her intense focus on improving the quality of his life, made her lose sight of the physical and emotional toll that the disease was having on her and her loved ones. Her need to understand what her client was going through led her to mmLearn.org, where she found the help they both needed.

The program was created in 2007 by San Antonio nonprofit Morningside Ministries and was recently named one of three winners of a $350,000 Humana Communities Benefit grant. In keeping with Morningside Ministries’ mission to “care for those who cared for us,” mmLearn.org offers free online training and support to those who are caring for older adults.

Joyce Hernandez, of San Antonio, said mmLearn.org is an educational resource that is making an impact on people's lives and helping her in her job as a caregiver.

Joyce Hernandez, a caregiver in San Antonio, said mmLearn.org is an educational resource that is making an impact on people’s lives.

“I had no idea there were so many free videos to view …  from learning how to use a walker to Alzheimer’s… it’s endless,” said Hernandez, who sees the fact that the on-demand training is always available as particularly important for caregivers who may need help in the middle of the night or have severe time constraints.

She said Alzheimer’s education offered by mmLearn.org helped her realize that she could best help her client by “going into his world,” rather than struggling for answers during some of the more frustrating times, such as when he would ask to go home although he was sitting in his home. She said the video helped reopen communication and brought comfort and relief to both of them.

It also helped her recognize her own emotional trauma and growing depression as she cared for her client around the clock, not trusting others to care for him as well as she would.

“I cared so much … but I began to withdraw from my own family and friends,” she said. “My husband expressed concerns so I went to the website and looked up caregiver stress. I realized that I had all the symptoms.

“Without the videos, I wouldn’t have known I needed help … I needed to take care of myself,” she added. Even though it was the hardest thing she ever had to do, she had to step away to regain her own health. Another caregiver is now working with the client with Alzheimer’s but Hernandez stays in contact with him while working as a caregiver for others.

“I am happy and found peace,” said Hernandez. “My family is happy to have me back. This program has had a big impact in my life. It has been truly a blessing.”

Alvin Loewenberg is President and CEO of Morningside Ministries in San Antonio, Texas.

Alvin Loewenberg is President and CEO of Morningside Ministries in San Antonio, Texas.

“mmLearn.org is our way of serving the caregiver,” said Alvin Loewenberg, President and CEO of Morningside Ministries, a nonprofit founded in San Antonio, Texas, in 1961 that offers facilities for older adults seeking independent living, skilled nursing, assisted living and rehabilitation.

“The real mission is to make life better” for people, said Loewenberg. With mmLearn.org, a program that includes 300 topics and has already been used by people in 98 countries, caregivers are given the tools and resources to help older adults stay in their own home longer and be cared for properly, he added.

Loewenberg said it is an honor to receive the Humana Communities Benefit grant, which offers an opportunity for the nonprofit to continue broadening its reach.

“It’s a great opportunity for mmLearn.org and a great gift to the community,” he said, adding that the grant allows the nonprofit to do much more to make a real difference in people’s lives.

Related links:

It’s Time to Act on Physician Disillusionment

BB LII blog 2

In a series of LinkedIn Influencer blog posts, Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard shares insights and ideas about the future of health care and discusses the importance of working together to improve the health-care system as well as our own health and well-being. His topics range from the powerful potential of technology to the issue of loneliness. His latest, It’s Time to Act on Physician Disillusionment, is reprinted below. To see all of his blog posts, click here.

Bruce_Broussard_MEDIres.jpg WYou’re either part of the solution or you’re part of the problem.”

This overused, one-dimensional rallying cry has been thrown around for years. But it’s not that simple. We often find in life that in order to solve a problem, we cannot look at an issue in terms of black or white and ignore the many shades of gray. In most cases, aren’t we all part of the solution as well as being part of the problem?

Take health care. We have many serious challenges: primary care physician shortage, baby boomer retirement, childhood obesity, you name it. Solving these challenges requires a team effort. If you want to talk about what’s wrong with health care today, be prepared to address what you can do to make it better.

A Welcome Voice
It’s always refreshing when the people we entrust with our health and well-being – physicians – offer their perspectives on not only what we need to do to improve health care, but where they see needed changes within their own roles.

Dr. Sandeep Jauhar, the director of the Heart Failure Program at the Long Island Jewish Medical Center, does an exceptional job breaking down the challenges that physicians face in our country. His article was adapted from “Doctored: The Disillusionment of an American Physician,” a book he recently authored and one I’m looking forward to reading.

In this article, Dr. Jauhar, a cardiologist, provides a detailed, historical analysis of the evolution of the American physician and the low morale and burnout that face the profession today.

What Intrigued Me
Dr. Jauhar spends a great deal of time examining the challenges facing the physician community and his historical analysis also details the positive impact physicians have made on society. For starters, he describes the advances medicine has made in reducing the common diseases of the past. More specifically, he talks about the impact of vaccines and how “once-terminal diseases—cancer, AIDS, congestive heart failure— are turning into complex chronic conditions that must be managed over the long term.”

When you think about the significant progress physicians have made in this area, these advances have given millions of people affected by these deadly diseases new hope. We still have a long way to go when it comes to curing these diseases but unquestionably the expert care from physicians has changed the game.

But how is the new focus on dealing with these long-term chronic conditions changing the health care system, changing the physician’s role, changing society? The economic and emotional burden alone is overwhelming. Where do we go from here? We’re all part of the problem – and part of the solution.

The Primary Care Physician Role
For example, if you think about why some physicians are unhappy, some believe it has to do with the notion that they don’t feel like they’re in control, don’t feel deeply engaged or are actively participating in the entire decision process, and payers can certainly do more to help. Some also speculate that this reflects a high level of despair in the physician community.

Take the primary care physician community. In my conversations with one physician who was also intrigued by Dr. Jauhar’s article, he believes there is a – his words – “significant level of despair” among the primary care physician community. His opinion is that some primary care physicians feel that “my responsibilities are diminished since other people are making decisions for me.”

We need to ensure that these highly intelligent primary care physicians feel empowered to participate; have the accountability they so desire; and are responsible and accountable for their patients’ care and well-being. Participation, accountability and responsibility must be the foundation for ensuring that primary care physicians have the support they need from us to best serve their patients.

What I Need to Do
Dr. Jauhar’s article highlights how the fee-for-service reimbursement system needs to change because the current patient population needs a more holistic-care approach versus one that is transaction-driven. His article also led me to think about comments made by Dr. Henry S. Lodge and Chris Crowley in their book – “Younger Next Year.” In the book, Dr. Lodge also provided a valuable insight into the transaction-driven nature of fee-for-service and the importance of holistic health:

  • “I had done what doctors do well in this country, which is to treat people when they come in with a disease. My patients had had good medical care but not, I began to think, great health care. For most, their declines, their illnesses, were thirty-year problems of lifestyle, not disease…Modern medicine does not concern itself with lifestyle problems…Most modern medicine is what lawyers and bankers call transactional: a one-shot deal. You blow out your knee, you have a heart attack, and you see a specialist. A short, intensive period of repair or cure follows, and the parties go their separate ways, probably forever.”

After I read Dr. Jauhar’s article, I began to think about the role my industry plays in health care and my own discussions with the physicians who serve my company’s members. We’re focused on becoming a company that puts the primary care physician at the center of the patient’s care, through pay-for-value models, such as Accountable Care, that help support a holistic approach to better health.

With this approach, physicians are reimbursed for the overall health of their patients and incentivized for outcomes, not interventions. Our industry is making solid progress on moving toward these value-based agreements, but we still have a long way to go. We’ll continue to implement the pay-for-value models because they work.

For example, Medicare Advantage uses the principles of Accountable Care to help millions of seniors get on the path to better health through aligned incentives.

  • Accountable Care has demonstrated clear benefits with a reduction in emergency room visits and improvements in diabetes, cholesterol and blood pressure management.
  • Physicians moving from the transactional-driven system of fee-for-service to Accountable Care have an ally in this evolution that can provide an insight into an individual’s holistic health: the payer. From value-based payments models to an individual’s claims, payers have the clinical and technological means to help support the primary care physician with a 360-degree complete snapshot of the individual’s health through sharing information in a secure manner.
  • At the same time, we can also help primary care physicians transition into a value-based payment model by supporting their compliance efforts for meeting quality measure and clinical guidelines and other Population Health tools.

It Takes a Team
There are other areas my industry needs to prioritize:

The Importance of Empathy – One of the examples that grabbed my attention was how Dr. Jauhar described an encounter with a patient on dialysis who had been informed by another doctor, in an “insensitive” manner, that he had no chance of his kidneys returning to normal.

  • Some of us have been in a room with a loved one who has been told devastating news about his or her health. It’s not easy for the patients, their loved ones, or the physician. We must ask ourselves – at every point in the care process – what we can do to better support those fighting a battle for their life.

Let’s Help Physicians – In his article, Dr. Jauhar cites this ER physician’s comment posted on Sermo, an online community of physicians: “Working up patients in the ER these days involves shotguning multiple unnecessary tests (everybody gets a CT!) despite the fact that we know they don’t need them, and being aware of the wastefulness of it all really sucks the love out of what you do.”

  • I need to be very clear on this point. It’s not about taking a blanket approach. It’s about trusting the doctor about what tests that he or she feels are ·  necessary to do–or not do–to help improve the patient’s overall health. If the primary care physician is to serve as the central role player, he or she must be seen as the quarterback when it comes to patient responsibility. They are the ones coordinating the approach to the patient’s health; ensuring that the clinical decisions that are made are done in the best interest of the patient; and, most importantly, feel empowered to manage the care of the patient by doing what they believe is right.
  • Investments in information technology are also important because they help make it easier for the physician to have a true 360-degree view of the patient, a critical factor in advancing holistic care. When you look at holistic care, aligned incentives are also critical because physicians are being rewarded for improving their patients’ overall health.
  • As I stated earlier, payers like me can help primary care physicians in their quest to experience the benefits of Accountable Care. We can keep helping these primary care physicians move into these arrangements through this holistic-driven approach, combined with a detailed plan to transition to value-based reimbursement.

Reduce – and Simplify – Administrative Tasks – We live in an era of technology that has transformed entire industries. The health care industry needs to step up and let the transformative power of technology improve and simplify the back-office processes so physicians can spend more quality time with their patient and less time on administrative tasks.

  • Using electronic submissions for all claims and referrals will be a step in the right direction. For example, Dr. Jauhar talks about how most physicians “said they didn’t have enough time to spend with patients because of paperwork.” Given the importance of electronic health records (EHR), EHRs can potentially enable physicians to streamline the paperwork, thus enabling them to spend more time with their patients.
  • Lastly, as an industry, we need interoperability. We can start by linking all of the electronic health care systems to simplify the life of the physician. Too often physicians are burdened dealing with disparate systems. By linking these systems, it’s not only good for the physician, but it also helps the patient (the physician has more time to spend with the patient) and it benefits society because these systems can help reduce costs. Physicians who are engaged and serving as active participants in the process will not only be happier and less disillusioned but the burnout rate will diminish.

Keeping people at home instead of in a home also helps our physician community. For example, leveraging technologies like telemedicine can help people with chronic conditions, some of whom don’t have the resources to travel for care, engage with the physician from their own home. We can do more by creating new programs and expanding existing programs that help those with chronic conditions live safely and comfortably in their own homes.

We are finding that one such program is doing just that. Not only are members telling us that this program, which utilizes in-home visits and personal care managers, is enhancing their health and well-being, but we are also seeing fewer hospitalizations and readmissions among its participants.

We All Have a Role
Dr. Jauhar writes that “medicine is about taking care of people in their most vulnerable states and making yourself somewhat vulnerable in the process.” Regardless of whether or not we work directly in health care, each of us plays a role in improving the physician/patient relationship.

The next time you go to see your primary care physician, don’t just let him or her ask you about your health. Take the time to ask them what you can do to make it easier for them to get you on the path to better health. Listen to them and then take action: eat better, exercise more, reduce stress, spend more time with family and friends…do what is necessary to enhance your own health and well-being.

We must empower our primary care physicians – the quarterbacks – so they truly feel they’re fully accountable, responsible and have the freedom to act in the patient’s best interest. They are in full control of their destiny, plain and simple. If these primary care physicians feel that they’re part of the process, they’re going to help more people get on the path to better health. It’s much better for the patient, the physician, and true engagement from the primary care physician community as a whole.

We can all make it easier on these physicians by practicing what we preach when it comes to good health. By simply making better lifestyle choices, we can alleviate the burden of chronic diseases, many of which are preventable and account for roughly 75 percent of our annual health care spend in the U.S.

Despite all the challenges we face in health care, it’s important to remember that we have the best physicians in the world. They’ve changed the lives of hundreds of millions of Americans for the better. We never want the word “disillusioned” to be associated with the people who care for our families and friends.

Veggie Rx: Prescription for better health

 

Fresh Stop KMP

Karyn Moskowitz’s passion for providing everyone access to good, affordable food led her to form New Roots in 2009, sowing seeds for healthy change in lower-income areas in Louisville, Kentucky. Five years later, the people living in those areas are reaping the rewards of having access to locally grown produce as they work together to make their communities stronger and healthier.

New Roots has worked with several local communities to open weekly or bi-weekly Fresh Stops, where local farmers provide organic produce at low prices in lower-income “food deserts,” which are areas that do not offer easy access to fresh, nutritious and affordable foods. The community participants pool their resources, buying shares that entitle them to a large quantity of fresh food delivered to a neighborhood location by local farmers, who gain a stable market for their products. The cost of the shares range from $12 to $25 and are based on income. A typical Fresh Stop delivery includes 10-15 items, such as tomatoes, carrots, kale, lettuce, squash, watermelon, corn, cabbage, peppers or okra. The items vary, depending on season and availability.

Nathaniel Spencer, a Fresh Stop shareholder and lifelong resident of the Shawnee neighborhood in Louisville, said he has seen positive change in the community because of the program.

“We needed this,” he said recently while helping sort produce delivered by Andre Barbour of Barbour Farms. “It’s a no-brainer if you care about people. The neighborhood is excited… we love the fresh food and the fellowship.”

Some of the produce available at a recent Fresh Stop is displayed on a table. (Photo by Ellen Nason)

Some of the produce available at a recent Fresh Stop is displayed on a table. (Photo by Ellen Nason)

The Fresh Stops, which are run by the shareholders and local volunteers, provide nutritious food and a place for community residents to gather, learn and renew relationships  – or form new ones. Spencer said one shareholder, who is in her 80s, rekindled a childhood friendship. The two women had not seen each other in decades until meeting at the local Fresh Stop even though they both lived in the neighborhood. He also gave examples of health improvements, such as a young man who has lost more than 80 pounds in the three years he has had access to a healthier diet.

The success of the Fresh Stops, now feeding 550 families, has led to the creation of Veggie Rx, a pilot program with a goal of broadening the reach and health benefits of the farmer’s markets. The unique, multigenerational program is administered by New Roots and supported through a Humana Foundation grant. Its goal is to encourage lifelong well-being in families who spend time together in fun, healthful activities such as:

  • Cooking classes, using produce and meat provided by the same local farmers who provide the produce for New Roots’ Fresh Stops
  • Physical activity with a personal trainer
  • Food justice classes

The pilot, divided into two sessions held on six successive Monday evenings, also provides the participating families with a “prescription” for a free share of produce at a Fresh Stop. The prescription for nutritious food has the same goal as a prescription for medication: improve health and help people live longer, happier lives. The program encourages families to participate and learn together, sharing an experience that will make it easier to make positive behavioral change that may prevent chronic diseases linked to poor diet and sedentary lifestyles. The program requires participation of children as part of its goal to lay the foundation for making healthier choices throughout life.

Volunteer chef Christine Brinkman gives Tania Barbour some help during a Veggie Rx cooking class. (Photo by Ellen Nason)

Volunteer chef Christine Brinkman gives Tania Barbour some help during a Veggie Rx cooking class. (Photo by Ellen Nason)

The enthusiasm of participants of all ages during a recent Veggie Rx class shows that it is certainly a realistic goal. Tania Barbour, 8, said she looks forward to Mondays and now loves to cook because she “likes seeing how the food mixtures go together.” She and her sister, Tiana, 12, were active participants in personal trainer LaKesha Perry’s exercise class as well as the cooking class, where nutritional information is given along with recipes and instruction. Leona Starks’ three grandsons, ages 4-9, and Meghan Calloway’s two children, 2 and 6, eagerly sampled all of the raw vegetables before they were added to the dish the families were making.

Calloway, whose dad and younger brother joined her and her children at Veggie Rx, said she hopes the program helps her children get an early start on a lifetime of healthy habits. She had already used a Veggie Rx prescription at a recent Fresh Stop, which she said was “awesome,” offering better quality and price than she would find elsewhere.

The first of two sessions of the pilot ended this week and is already showing positive results with one participant reporting a 20-pound weight loss during the six-week session. The next session begins Monday, October 13, at the Redeemer Lutheran Church in Louisville’s Shawnee neighborhood.

Moskowitz, who attends and participates in the Veggie Rx classes, sees the program, along with the Fresh Stops, as a way to nourish future community leaders and to keep people engaged and empowered to improve their own health and well-being.

“This is a community-driven program,” she said. “It’s their church, their family. It’s changing their lives. They come for the food but stay for the community.”

For more information about these programs or how to volunteer or donate, go to the New Roots website or contact Karyn Moskowitz at (502) 509-6770.

Digital Experience Center: Milestone in Humana’s continuing evolution

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The physical workspace of Humana’s new Digital Experience Center may be unique for the company, with features more likely to be seen in a Silicon Valley office than one in Louisville, Kentucky, but the work being done in it fits perfectly with Humana’s goal of making it easier for the people living in the communities we serve to achieve their best health.

The purpose of this innovative digital software accelerator is to create and update Humana’s digital products quickly and simply while working collaboratively with the consumers who will be using them.

“It’s an exciting day,” Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard said Thursday at an event to mark the official opening of the Louisville center.

Broussard noted that it is more important than ever for the company to collaborate with its customers given the ever-changing complexities in health care. He pointed out that one of the most important factors in the innovative approach of the Digital Experience Center is the fact that Humana is “wrapping the customer around the product” by getting instant feedback from them. Consumers are brought in weekly to test and review the products being developed or updated, making them a part of the team.

“To be successful, we have to be agile,” he said. “Collaboration is part of being agile.”

One element of Humana’s new approach to product development is creating a more collaborative and empowered process for its employees as well as the consumer. The digital product designers, developers and managers work in pairs, side-by-side — sharing two keyboards for a single computer. The teams are working exclusively on digital products and with increased focus because they are limiting the daily disruptions created by the meetings, email and phone calls found in a traditional office setting. The physical setup is also a departure from the past, with workers having the option of using stand-up desks or recharging mentally and physically at the two ping pong tables in the office.

The first product released from the Digital Experience Center is the HumanaVitality mobile application, which enables users to create and measure specific, personal wellness goals (get active, eat better, lose weight or reduce stress). Humana recently announced full integration with Apple’s HealthKit for the HumanaVitality app.

The team at the Digital Experience Center is currently working on another mobile app for Humana members.

Humana integrates with Apple’s HealthKit to help improve, simplify consumer health

Humana has announced full integration with Apple’s HealthKit for HumanaVitality®, the company’s consumer health app for iPhone and iPod touch, providing users a clear and current overview of their health and fitness data.

“The simple, innovative, and easy-to-use design of the Apple Health app makes it easier for these Humana members to collectively manage their fitness data so they can improve their health,” said Bruce Broussard, Humana’s President and Chief Executive Officer. “Apple is taking a significant step forward with regards to the ‘quantified self.’ As more consumers use Apple Health, the platform can also help the health care industry leverage the power of technology to further transform the consumer health experience.”

The HumanaVitality App, designed to make it easy and simple for consumers to engage with their health, enables users to create and measure specific, personal wellness goals (get active, eat better, lose weight or reduce stress). HumanaVitality rewards members for meeting these goals and for other healthy behaviors, from getting a biometrics screening to taking 10,000 physician-recommended steps a day.

HumanaVitality members who use the HumanaVitality App can upload fitness data from their favorite wearables into Apple Health and earn Vitality Points™ for hitting their health and fitness milestones. First users must choose to share data from their fitness devices to Apple Health and then grant HumanaVitality permission to read this data which is used to measure against their goals. When goals are met, users earn valuable Vitality Points™ which can be redeemed at the HumanaVitality Mall for movie tickets, fitness equipment, music downloads and more. HumanaVitality members that use the app will need to be on iOS 8.0.2.

The HumanaVitality App is available for free from the App Store on iPhone and iPod touch or at www.AppStore.com. For more information about the HumanaVitality App, watch the video above or visit this Humana website.

Humana opens first North Carolina Guidance Center, 26th nationally

 

NC GC Couple reviewing activities

Humana hosted the grand opening of its first North Carolina Guidance Center on September 23 in Raleigh. The Raleigh facility, 8800 Harvest Oaks Drive, is the 26th Guidance Center that Humana now has in operation across the country.

The grand-opening festivities, which included a bluegrass band, barbeque and exercise routines, introduced the Raleigh community to Humana’s Guidance Centers, which help close the gap between people and the support and care they need to live healthier, happier lives. By partnering with the community and offering a place for people to connect with others, share common interests, and participate in fitness classes, health and wellness seminars, and disease-specific education classes – at no cost  – Humana hopes to make it easy for people to achieve their best health.

The Guidance Centers also offer Humana members a place to meet face-to-face with a Customer Care Specialist who can provide personalized support and information. A sales agent is also available to help people navigate healthcare choices and purchase plans ranging from individual medical plans (for individuals under 65), Medicare health plans and prescription drug plans (for people 65 and over), and dental, vision and other specialty products (for any individual).

Watch the video below to learn more about the centers, which are open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Specific classes and activities vary by location, but you can find details about individual centers by visiting the Humana Guidance Center website.

Humana, KaBOOM! to build 8 more playgrounds this fall

Harrisburg Public Schools Foundation’s Karen Snider cuts the ribbon on a new multigenerational playground at Foose Elementary in Harrisburg, PA on Saturday September 20, 2014. (Photo by Marvin Hill)

Harrisburg Public Schools Foundation’s Karen Snider cuts the ribbon on a new multigenerational playground at Foose Elementary in Harrisburg, PA on Saturday September 20, 2014. (Photo by Marvin Hill)

Humana and nonprofit KaBOOM! launched their fourth fall playground tour on September 20 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. The multigenerational playground in Harrisburg is the first of eight that will be built across the country in the next eight weeks. Humana, the Humana Foundation and KaBOOM! will have worked together to build more than 50 playgrounds by the end of 2014.

“These playgrounds allow us to promote healthy living in cities across the country. We are proud of our partnership with KaBOOM! and look forward to another successful season of builds,” said Humana President and CEO Bruce Broussard. “It’s important to us to make it easy for people to achieve their best health – kids and adults alike.”

The playgrounds, which feature traditional kid-friendly equipment as well as walking paths and fitness stations for adults, are built in only six hours by volunteers and create a space for families and communities to gather to enjoy fun, healthy activity.

“The playground in my neighborhood has really improved the quality of life for many people who live at Gateway Park,” said Marcus French, a Gateway Park resident in Portland, Oregon, where Humana and KaBOOM! teamed up on a playground in the fall of 2012. “Now, everyone living at Gateway Park has a great place to gather together.”

In addition to Harrisburg, playgrounds will be built in the following cities this fall:

  • Mobile, Alabama on September 27
  • Jackson, Mississippi on October 4
  • Cedar Rapids, Iowa on October 11
  • Kansas City, Missouri on October 18
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma on October 25
  • Tucson, Arizona on November 1
  •  Riverside, California on November 8

Related links:

Starting Right, Now: Giving teens a home and hope for the future

(Note: This is the first in a series of videos and articles profiling the three winners of this year’s $350,000 Humana Communities Benefit grants.)

La’Quita Carter led the hectic life of a typical high school student: classes, part-time job, sports, social activities. At the end of a busy day, her classmates headed home to their families and a good night’s sleep in their own comfortable beds. La’Quita looked for a safe place to park her car where she would spend the night, hoping she would come to no harm and no one would discover her secret: She was homeless and alone.

La'Quita Carter stands next to her high school graduation gown, which she said she would donate to a teen in need to use next year. (Photo and story by Ellen Nason)

La’Quita Carter stands next to her high school graduation gown, which she said she would donate to a teen in need to use next year. (Photo and story by Ellen Nason)

One cold night as she crawled into the back of her car to sleep, she knew she had to talk to someone. She could no longer face scary nights alone in a car and worry about getting to school early enough to freshen up in a bathroom before class. She shared her secret with her school counselor the next day, but instead of causing more problems as she had feared, it opened the door to a better life, giving her hope, a home and a reason to believe that anything is possible.

Her counselor recommended she participate in Starting Right, Now, a Tampa, Florida, nonprofit program that is helping a growing number of homeless families and children end a cycle of poverty, homelessness and hopelessness. The nonprofit, one of this year’s three winners of a $350,000 Humana Communities Benefit grant, goes beyond providing temporary shelter and temporary solutions. Its goal is to end homelessness, one child at a time, by taking a holistic and personalized approach that helps young people with every need, both immediate and in the future. The program emphasizes education, empowerment, motivation, responsibility, stability and community.

La’Quita, a 19-year-old college student majoring in sports medicine, faced an uphill climb from birth. Her mother was only 15 when La’Quita was born and had to drop out of high school. The family struggled financially and emotionally, and the strain eventually became too much for La’Quita, who left home while still in high school.

“I was down but motivated,” she said. “My mom didn’t finish high school, and I didn’t want to be that way. I wanted to end the cycle. I knew it would get better. A lot of people doubted me – even my own mom at one time, but I wanted to prove them wrong. I stayed focused and knew I would be successful in life.”

She worked long hours on weekends and after classes when she was homeless, but she never stopped studying because she was resilient, determined, loved learning and enjoyed the structure she found at school – and at Starting Right, Now. The nonprofit helps each student find a job, gives them shelter and food, medical and dental care and tutoring. It also teaches financial literacy, helps with college and vocational school applications and assigns a mentor, who becomes an advocate offering daily guidance and, often, a lifelong bond. In return, the student must attend classes, clean his or her room and be committed and dedicated to building a better life.

“There are so many stories in this house,” La’Quita said during a recent interview at the Starting Right, Now property that provides a home for dozens of teens. “Some have had parents die. But they are very strong and are still trying to better themselves. People want to help people who are motivated. Everyone needs help and everyone needs a little extra push sometimes. They get that here. When people come here, they have hope. No excuses. You have everything you need. I’m thankful and blessed.

Jorge Gonzalez said he gained hoped - and a new family - through Starting Right, Now. (Photo and story by Ellen Nason)

Jorge Gonzalez said he gained hoped – and a new family – through Starting Right, Now. (Photo and story by Ellen Nason)

Jorge Gonzalez
As a high school student in Tampa, Jorge Gonzalez was working until 1-2 a.m., struggling to pass his classes and living alone in his car.

He had not had contact with his mother for months when he learned that she was in jail. He said he broke down and, while it was a low point in his life, he was determined to be strong, to keep going. He turned to a school counselor, who talked to him about Starting Right, Now. He found a family, a home and the help he needed to change his life.

“Without them, I would not have passed high school,” said Jorge. “It made me feel I was worth it. The people here saw my potential. One day I thought, ‘Wow, I’m worth giving a shot, worth being helped.’”

Jorge said that even though he once thought he didn’t like school, he was still determined to get an associate’s degree and become a veterinary technician. But he said the Starting Right, Now, program has motivated him to pursue a bachelor’s degree and give serious consideration to becoming a veterinarian.

He also credits Tony Lisotta, his mentor, for helping him achieve more than even he thought was possible and to set higher goals.

“He was always there for me,” Jorge said. “He helped me solve problems and find solutions and is definitely a role model of what I want for my future.”

The Starting Right, Now program encourages students to maintain relationships with their parents and other family members, and Jorge has reconnected with his mother, who attended his high school graduation this summer.

“At first, my mom was really depressed about me going into the program because she felt she had failed as a mother… until she saw me graduate,” Jorge said. “Then she showed all emotions except sadness. Seeing her like that made me the happiest person in the world.” He said that at that moment she realized that Starting Right, Now, had given her son an opportunity, given him a future.

Vicki Sokolik, Founder and Executive Director of Starting Right, Now
Vicki Sokolik says an experience staying with her daughter during a long hospitalization years ago woke her to the reality that many people must struggle daily to ensure that their families have the basics in life. She knew she had to help, even if in a small way, even if it was one child or one family. Today, the organization she founded has helped more than 150 formerly homeless youth in Florida’s Hillsborough County find a home and build a foundation for a successful future. Some are the first in their family to graduate from high school and most are the first to graduate from college.

She hopes to increase that number by expanding its Hillsborough County facility and opening another facility in Pinellas County with the $350,000 Humana Communities Benefit grant that her nonprofit recently won.

“Florida has the highest number of unaccompanied youth in the country,” said Sokolik. “There were 9,000 that were counted in the state of Florida. The need is remarkable.”

In addition to providing shelter, food, medical and dental care and tutoring, her program focuses on the long-term future of the students and the future of their children. Its push to pursue higher education is showing amazing results.

“One hundred percent of our kids the past three years have all gone to higher education with scholarships,” she said. “They will be our leaders.”

Gaining stability, structure, a place to live and losing the daily stress of wondering whether you will make it through another day enables the students to focus on their studies and a brighter future. But Sokolik believes that matching the students with a mentor who becomes a part of their daily life is a key to the success of the program. The mentors have daily contact with participants and become an advocate for them. They also take them on regular outings and expose them to new experiences, whether it’s going to a restaurant, taking a shopping trip or attending a play or concert.

“A lot of students have not had a reliable person in their lives,” she said. “It’s empowering to know someone cares and is always there.”

Mentors are asked to make an 18-month commitment to the program, and Sokolik said “they don’t leave and often form lifelong relationships.”

Sokolik said that beyond raising her own two children, Starting Right, Now has been the most rewarding experience in her life. She said that attending every graduation is her reward for giving hope when it might well have been lost forever.

“You may think that working alone as one person, you can’t make a difference,” said Sokolik. “But one person CAN make a difference. Even if you change one life – it’s impactful. Never say never.”

Vicki Sokolik, Founder and Executive Director of Starting Right, Now, (standing) said resiliency and motivation to succeed are two qualities she looks for when interviewing potential program participants, such as Jorge Gonzalez and La'Quita Carter. (Photo and story by Ellen Nason)

Vicki Sokolik, Founder and Executive Director of Starting Right, Now, (standing) said resiliency and motivation to succeed are two qualities she looks for when interviewing potential program participants, such as Jorge Gonzalez and La’Quita Carter. (Photo and story by Ellen Nason)

Humana CEO joins President Obama, KaBOOM! for National Day of Service and Remembrance projects

Bruce – KaBOOM president 9-11-14

President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama joined KaBOOM!, Humana CEO Bruce Broussard and representatives from several national service organizations on September 11 in Washington, D.C. to commemorate this year’s National Day of Service and Remembrance by participating in projects focused on improving the health and well-being of children.

In addition to building a playground at The Inspired Teaching School in Washington, more than 300 KaBOOM! playpacks were assembled and will be donated to DC Homeless Children Playtime Project and Extraordinary Birthday Parties, local nonprofits that are dedicated to providing homeless children with more opportunities for play.

Broussard’s participation in the events resulted from Humana’s partnership with KaBOOM! to build dozens of playgrounds across the country in the last three years as part of its commitment to make it easier for the communities it serves to achieve better health and lifelong well-being. Humana will partner with KaBOOM! to build more playgrounds this fall.

For more information about Thursday’s events, visit the KaBOOM! website.

Humana At Home: Supporting independence with holistic approach to better health

Bruce Weaver had a heart attack hundreds of miles from his North Carolina home a few years ago, but the energetic 75-year-old has fully recovered and is back on the road, spending this summer traveling with his wife, Ruth. He is thankful for everyone who worked with him on his journey to better health: family and friends, his doctors, physical therapists and Lynece Hand, his Humana At Home personal care manager.

Weaver, who is also a diabetic, was contacted by Hand, a registered nurse, soon after his heart attack. He appreciates that she has helped him set and meet goals and motivated him to exercise, but he also treasures the personal, trusting relationship they have developed.

Bruce Weaver holds his dog Abby.

Bruce Weaver holds his dog Abby.

“She is joyful,” said Weaver, who looks forward to her regular calls, even when he is out on the road. “It’s relaxing to talk to her.” Weaver, who now lives in Inverness, Florida, said that he may not always have questions about medications or other aspects of his physical health, but he knows Hand is always ready to listen to any concerns, answer questions and understand.

“Other people who have had a heart attack don’t always have that,” he said. Weaver, who has lost 40 pounds, said he’s feeling great, and his cardiologist recently told him to “keep doing what you’re doing.”

“It is fulfilling to be able to help,” said Hand, who attributes Weaver’s recovery to the fact that he is actively engaged in improving his health and dedicated to staying active and learning.

Hand believes Humana At Home, formerly called Humana Cares/SeniorBridge, is successful in part because of its holistic approach. The care managers take time to learn participants’ stories, enabling them to focus on specific areas of concern that could adversely affect their physical and mental health.

Hand said this leads to a more personalized care plan, whether it is health education and coaching, health care provider coordination, in-home visits and safety assessments or caregiver support. As the care managers become more familiar with Humana At Home participants’ needs, they also may connect them with social workers or other community resources to help with issues relating to finances, transportation or loneliness.

Humana At Home, which now serves nearly 600,000 people nationwide, focuses on those with multiple chronic conditions and those who need help transitioning after being discharged from the hospital. The goal is to keep people living safely and comfortably in their own home.

“It is a holistic approach … it’s just not purely disease management,” said Craig Drablos, Chief of Operations, Humana At Home. “We’re trying to take care of the whole person, the whole self and by doing that, we’re keeping people out of the hospital. We’re seeing that the readmission rate when we do this drops about 40 percent for these people.

“This whole program is designed around achieving lifelong well-being,” said Drablos. “I’m not sure of any other program out there right now that supports the members in the way that we’re supporting our members.”

Lynece Hand is a registered nurse and personal care manager with Humana At Home.

Lynece Hand is a registered nurse and personal care manager with Humana at Home.

Hand works with 205 members, but her contact is mainly telephonic. While that method works for many, some need or prefer in-home visits.

Ernestine Marshall, a retired teacher, has diabetes and multiple sclerosis. She said she is coping with her illnesses better through dietary changes, exercise, ongoing education and gaining confidence in herself. She attributes many of the changes, particularly her growing confidence, to the connection she has with John Webb, a Humana At Home field care manager, who visits her each week at her home in Tampa, Florida.

“I know I can call him if I have any problems,” said Marshall. “It makes me feel better. I even feel important sometimes. I know someone is there.” She said she looks forward to Webb’s weekly visits and knows he’ll either have answers to her questions or find the answers for her.

Marshall also participates in a Healthsense remote monitoring pilot program through Humana At Home. The sensors are placed in key areas of her home to detect movement and help monitor possible problems. “If I fall or can’t move, someone will notice,” she said. “I can stay safely in my home and be comfortable.”

Helping members enhance their health while living safely at home is the goal, said Webb, who looks at the program as a partnership with members because it requires their engagement and willingness to set and work on goals.
Webb said that Marshall is highly motivated and is reaching her goals, such as recently traveling to a family reunion in Atlanta, which was out of her normal routine.

“It’s the best system, the best program,” said Marshall. “I like it. I would not change it for anything else.”

Ernestine Marshall, left, talks to John Webb during one of his weekly visits to her home.

Ernestine Marshall, left, talks to John Webb during one of his weekly visits to her home.

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