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Navigating Medical Care

Patient Advocates Provide Care and Assistance for Those Who Need Help

Sandy Miller | Jun 5, 2014, 1:22 p.m.

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Certified geriatric care manager Jeannean Sabatina has been caring for Ralph Iacuessa for more than two years.

Ann Lewis fondly remembers the father of her childhood—a strong, proud man who headed up the buildings and grounds department at a college in Massachusetts. Ralph Iacuessa had a passion for sports and was an avid golfer, water skier, snow skier, handball player and ice skater. He loved spending time with Lewis and her brother, Bob. He built them a double swing in their yard and a sail fish to use on summer vacations in New Hampshire. Sundays were the best, Lewis recalls. Sundays were all about afternoon drives and ice cream.

When their parents retired, they moved across the country to bask in the warm sunshine in Sun City. All seemed fine until the phone call came.

“It is time to take care of us,” Lewis says her father told her brother.

When her brother arrived at his parents’ home, things were even worse than he and Lewis had imagined. Their parents weren’t eating right. They would pick up their prescriptions and throw them, unused, into a kitchen drawer. Their dad came home one day and there was a scrape down the side of his car. He couldn’t remember how it happened.

Lewis and her brother realized their parents needed more help than they could give them. That’s when they found Jeannean Sabatina, a certified geriatric care manager and owner of With Love, Jeannean, a care management agency based in Sun City.

“I can’t even tell you how she charmed my dad and mom,” Lewis says. “It was wonderful.”

When their mom died two years ago, Sabatina was there to console him. Today, she continues to care for their dad, now 96 years old and living in an assisted nursing facility. She takes him to doctor and dentist appointments and keeps track of his medical records and bills. She makes sure he has all the right medications and has a nurse monitor them. Sabatina keeps in constant contact with Lewis and her brother, updating them on their father’s health and well-being. When Lewis and her brother travel to Sun City to visit their father, they always see Sabatina.

“There is no way that Bob or I could give the life that dad has without Jeannean,” Lewis says.

Sabatina is just one of many who have joined a relatively new profession of patient advocates. Some are geriatric care managers like Sabatina. Others are registered nurse patient advocates and health advocates. Many are former nurses or social workers. Retired doctors are also entering the field. The one thing they all have in common is that they work independently of hospitals, nursing homes and other institutions. They focus entirely on their clients.

A Growing Profession

It’s difficult to determine just how many “patient advocates” there are in the United States. There’s no real way of tracking the numbers because there’s no national certification for patient advocates. But anyone in the field will tell you it’s growing because they see firsthand the real demand there is out there.

“We have more and more Baby Boomers and they’re not only patients themselves, but the children of elderly parents,” says Trisha Torrey, founder and director of the Alliance of Professional Health Advocates, a membership organization for patient advocates, and ADVOConnection, an online tool to help people find patient advocates across the United States.

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