CAREER STORY: Alumna Joins Start-up as Medical Care Coordinator for Neurodegenerative Diseases

January 8, 2016 @ 1:11 am

After taking time away from her career in medical social work to raise her young children, Columbia (MSW’98) alumna and New Jersey native Emily Zivin was ready to return the field. She wanted a position that was flexible yet fulfilling; something that would utilize her expertise as a social worker in various medical institutions in New York and Chicago, where she is now based.

Zivin eventually found through CSSW’s alumni network. This health care start-up was in fact co-founded by a 2002 graduate of Columbia College, Lindsay Jurist-Rosner. Based on her own experience of caring for her mother, Jurist-Rosner came up with the idea of creating a Web-based platform to connect patients and their families to health care services. For a monthly fee, a health care coordinator will help them navigate the health care maze and ensure they connect with the best-possible providers in the area where they live.

Approximately 30 percent of Americans are providing care to an ill, disabled, or aged person. Nearly 35 million of these care givers are unpaid, female and have full time jobs. The stress and responsibility that can come with care-giving is adding up. Jurist-Rosner hopes Wellthy will help ease the burden of juggling healthcare-related tasks. TechCrunch named the company to its list of the 24 best start ups in 2015 because it provides an affordable alternative to other care/financial management services.

Zivin, who joined Wellthy in January of this year, has been making use of her previous experience assisting patients suffering from Huntington’s disease. She has helped several clients find the necessary medical care and insurance to be able afford the treatments they need for treating Huntington’s and other neurodegenerative disorders.

Here’s what Zivin had to say about her experience thus far:

Thank you, Emily, for agreeing to talk to us about your work with Wellthy. First, can we ask: what does a care coordinator do?
Care coordinators work directly with people who need coordination with their health care. They help the customer address their various health care needs and identify the best plan of action.

What appeals to you about Wellthy’s business model?
There are a lot of people who have various healthcare needs but lack support or don’t have enough time in the day to take care of their health care. This is why Wellthy is important.  It’s a quick, efficient, cost-effective way to provide care to people. Care coordinators can do this work from home, and their Wellthy clients have access to experts from all over the country.

Do you do anything to promote Wellthy’s services?
Many people hear about Wellthy’s services through word of mouth or posts like this one!

Who is the ideal client?
Wellthy can help anyone. Most people think only the elderly are in need of long-term service care. This would be a good service for anyone with a chronic illness—children, too.

What are the main challenges you have encountered?
It’s a start-up. There is a lot of figuring out what works and what doesn’t. We are learning how to hire people who can do different things on different levels. When I started in January 2015, Wellthy had just social workers and nurses. Now we have added a huge pool of care managers who specialize in various areas of health care. It’s exciting to be a part of something that is evolving.

How well did your studies at the Columbia School of Social Work prepare you for this experience?
Columbia School of Social Work offered a supportive learning environment. While we were taking classes, we also had job placements, which allowed me to get direct experience working with clients and receive supervision. I worked in two hospital settings with many different populations. I learned how to connect to people who were different from me and was able to offer support to clients with a range of needs. In addition, the classes at Columbia were small enough to enable the students to actively participate in discussions and connect to other students while we were learning.

You’ve been at Wellthy since the start of this year and have already had some success stories. Can you share one of them with us?
I was requested to contact a woman in her 30s who was newly diagnosed, through an emergency room visit, with multiple sclerosis (MS)—a potentially disabling disease of the brain and spinal cord. She contacted Wellthy requesting help with her follow-up care. At the ER she was told she needed to start medication via injection, but no one had given her instructions on how the medicine would arrive or how to self-inject. After her diagnosis, she wanted to make sure she had the best-possible follow up care, especially as she works full time and has two young children at home,

The client really wanted to go to an MS Center, but she has an HMO and needed to see her primary care doctor first. I spent a lot of time explaining the HMO and gatekeeper system to her. Then I referred her to her primary care physician, who discussed her diagnosis and her medication and answered all of her questions. Afterwards, she was referred to a neurologist who could monitor her MS.

I also helped the client arrange medication delivery. I contacted the pharmaceutical company and confirmed that she had been placed on a financial assistance program. I corresponded with the visiting nurse who would teach her how to administer the medicine and help to ensure that everything was safely set up for her.

After securing appropriate referrals for neurologist, medication and financial assistance, we worked on some of the emotional aspects of the diagnosis. I gave her referrals to local support groups, MS support organizations, and massage therapy.

As you can imagine, it is difficult for someone to be diagnosed with MS at such a young age. I think Wellthy helped to make sure she was comfortable with her medical treatment plan. It also connected her with the kind of financial assistance she would need to cover the high cost of medication for a chronic disease.

Would you like to add anything else?
Graduates of CSSW who are interested in the role of health care coordinator should contact Wellthy. Our most important criterion is an ability to combine strong project management skills with empathy—something most CSSW graduates should have. And if you know someone juggling care, be their hero and tell them about Wellthy.

Thank you, Emily! We appreciate you sharing your career story with the wider CSSW community.

—Interview conducted by Eryn Ashleigh Mathewso