From the Print

AUM to train caregivers

A patient in the American health care system has many needs, only some of which can be met by a doctor. In fact, before even seeing a physician, some patients must make a dozen decisions regarding health care options, providers and facilities, insurance, transportation and home front support, some of which end up being handled by a social worker, a home health nurse, a chaplain or a family member. But instead of being caught by the nearest warm body, these issues should be addressed by a professional who is trained to help patients make the best choices for themselves, according to Jane Brown, chair of the health and wellness program at Antioch University Midwest. She has helped to launch a new certificate in health care consumer advocacy at Midwest to empower professionals to guide patients toward better health care.

Before joining the faculty at Midwest, Brown had a long career in the health care field, first as a chaplain and later as a hospital administrator. She has seen first-hand the need for professional advocates who can help patients understand the wide array of choices before them and make decisions in a fully informed manner. When Midwest President Michael Fishbein approached her about designing such a program, she felt that the school had an opportunity to answer the call of its founding principles of service to humanity: to advance the system of caring.

The health care consumer advocacy certificate is a nine-month program that incorporates some in-class time and online discussion forums with two hours of clinical experience each week. The program covers fields such as patient rights, physiology and disease, interpersonal communication, health care research, integration of health care modalities and conflict resolution. The certificate is especially designed to equip students with the skills to research the issues individual patients are facing, and to listen with compassion to the needs of patients and their families, Brown said.  

In her capacity as chaplain at a hospital that had no such health care advocate, Brown was often called to fill in the gaps. On one occasion she was approached by physicians who didn’t know what to do with a kidney failure patient whose wife was adamantly against continuing dialysis. Though it wasn’t exactly her job, she was one of the few professionals available to listen, and in the end she found that the couple and the health care providers agreed on a course of treatment.

“Part of it was that she just needed to be heard,” Brown said.

On another occasion Brown, again as chaplain, was approached by a team of doctors, nurses, a social worker and even a cleaning crew member, about an AIDS patient who clearly was suffering but appeared unable to die. She sensed that what he needed was someone to hold his hand and comfort him. Within a short time of her serving that need, the patient passed away.

“The more a person can listen to the human side and balance it against the medical and economic side, the better off the patient is going to be,” Brown said. “There needs to be more well-rounded people with knowledge who can work with families to do this -— that’s what will help change the world.”  

The advocacy certificate was designed by an advisory board, many of whose members will teach parts of the program, including professionals from Greene County Family Services and Council on Aging, Springfield Community and Miami Valley Hospitals, Clark State and Grant Medical Center in Columbus. Brown and Midwest professor Rod Mclaughlin will also teach two of the 10 courses offered in the program.

The school expects the certificate to be of use to both health care professionals who want additional certification and non-professionals looking to enter the field, Brown said. To be eligible Midwest requires that students hold an undergraduate degree, which can be combined with the certificate through Midwest’s Undergraduate Degree Completion program. The health care advocacy program is also part of Midwest’s new individualized masters degree program in health and wellness.

“We’re giving credibility to people who have this knowledge, and attracting some already in the field without degrees,” she said. “We think we can be a model for this kind of program.”

Applications to the program are being accepted through January. For more information contact Brown, PhD, MDiv, at jbrown {at} antioch(.)edu or 937-769-1877. Or go online to www.midwest.antioch.edu .

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