Health AGEnda

Reflections on a Summer at the Hartford Foundation

Before starting my internship with the John A. Hartford Foundation, the notion of improving health outcomes while decreasing costs appeared implausible. Securing strong patient-centered care for a loved one had to come at an extra expense—a large price tag for both the individual, his family, and the institution administering the care. After all, my family recently hired a home health aide to assist and advocate for my grandfather during his stay in the hospital and then during hospice, what is supposed to be one of the most patient-centered forms of care. My family believed that a consistent, if costly, presence and support system would serve him well during employee shifts and other downtime between caregivers.

And it made a difference. Our aide, Abdulai (last name withheld), served as my family’s lifeline, the person my grandfather could rely on for personalized and direct care, the person my mother could trust in clarifying medications and complicated procedures.

Author Caitlin Brookner (back, left) with her cousins and grandfather.

Author Caitlin Brookner (back, left) with her cousins and grandfather, Leonard Weisberg.

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Breast Cancer: Are We Making Strides?

Amy Berman, left, and her daughter Stephanie at the American Cancer Society's Making Strides event in New York's Central Park.

Amy Berman, left, and her daughter Stephanie at the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides event in New York’s Central Park.

Maggie Mahar is an influential blogger on topics from health care reform to the economy. Maggie and I agree that we are not making sufficient strides in the war on breast cancer. We disagree that I chose life over longevity. I chose life and longevity.

In honor of breast cancer awareness month, Maggie has allowed us to repost a blog she featured in HealthBeat on Oct. 11th. I am grateful that she uses her potent prose to draw attention to the needs of older adults. Cancer is, after all, primarily a disease of aging. Two-thirds of those living with cancer are age 65 or older.

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Helping Older Adults Live Safely and Independently: An Interview with Aanand Naik, MD

Dr. Aanand Naik

Dr. Aanand Naik

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been introducing the John A. Hartford Foundation’s  new funding areas and we’ve been highlighting examples of people and projects that exemplify the work we want to support under each strategy. Last week, Wally Patawaran discussed our Tools and Measures program area, which will support the improvement and advancement of quality measurement and information technology that can drive improvements in clinical practice and patient outcomes.

Today, we are sharing an interview with Dr. Aanand Naik, a geriatrician and a health services investigator at the DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston and associate professor of medicine at Baylor College of Medicine. Dr. Naik was a Hartford Health Outcomes Research Scholar and affiliated with our Center of Excellence in Geriatric Medicine at Baylor.

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Stunning New IOM Report Reframes How We View Cancer

IOM_Report250The Institute of Medicine (IOM) is swinging for the fences with the release of a new report, Delivering High-Quality Cancer Care: Charting a New Course for a System in Crisis.

The report makes recommendations in six areas critical to the delivery of quality cancer care:

  1. Engaged patients
  2. An adequately staffed, trained, and coordinated workforce
  3. Evidence-based care
  4. Learning health care information technology (IT)
  5. Translation of evidence into clinical practice, quality measurement, and performance improvement
  6. Accessible and affordable care.

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Geriatrics Expertise Saves the Day—and a Life


Dr. William Dale, author of “Geriatrics Saved His Life!” The story took top prize in this year’s John A. Hartford Foundation Heroes of Geriatric Care Story Contest.

Too often when older adults enter the health care system, we hear stories about them not receiving recommended care, such as medications reviews, fall prevention assessments, and depression screenings. Older adults also experience too many adverse events in the hospital, poor handoffs between care settings, and preventable hospital readmissions.  

And too many times, they enter this system lacking the advocates who can expertly provide or coordinate their often complex care.

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What If Health Care Has It All Wrong?

BermanHCLDR_400On June 4, I was fortunate enough to be the special guest on a record-breaking Health Care Leadership Twitter Chat (#HCLDR ) that reached more than 2 million people on Twitter and was the number one trending topic in the twittersphere.

As the guest, I was charged with designing the chat, choosing the topic and questions, and contributing a blog to be referenced on the Health Care Leadership homepage. What was the topic that had the social media hive buzzing? We explored the issues surrounding person-centered care and patient activation, and talked about the role of people supporting their health within the context of health care delivery.

BermanTweet1_350So many of us spend our lives dedicated to improving health care. As a senior program officer working for The John A. Hartford Foundation in NYC, I peruse endless data quantifying the problems, poor quality care, and needless harm to our nation’s frail and vulnerable older adults. For example, 20 percent of our nations’ older adults return to the hospital within 30 days after being discharged. The cost for this debacle is estimated at more than $17 billion dollars per year in avoidable readmissions. If this were a car dealership—and the rate of repaired cars returning needlessly to the shop—they would go out of business.

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Dr. Seuss knew what ails health care system—and so do our Hartford Grantees

OnlyOldOnce200March 2nd marked what would have been Dr. Seuss’ 109th birthday (Theodor Seuss Geisel, Born: 1904, Died: 1991). I have always been a big Seuss fan, but even more so after my 7-year-old son recently checked out Dr. Seuss’ You’re Only Old Once! A Book for Obsolete Children from his school library. (“Because you like old people, Mom.”)

It is a fantastic patient-centered read and a hilariously sad reflection of our health care system.

“This small white pill is what I munch
At breakfast and right after lunch.
I take the pill that’s Kelly green
Before each meal and in between.

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Transparency and the Teachable Moment

TS_130115_Beach300When I was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer—one that has no cure—I debated whether to share this information publicly. Discussions about “death panels” were all the rage. It infuriated me to think that uninformed folks in the policy world would aim to limit open discussions with patients about their diagnosis, prognosis, and treatment options.

How could care be patient centered if patients and families were excluded?

Because I found an oncologist who was transparent and asked about my values, I was able to opt for care focused on feeling well for as long as possible, not the typical let’s-throw-everything-we-have-at-this approach. The latter would have made me feel terribly unwell without the likelihood of a real benefit later. I told family, colleagues at work, and my closest friends about my illness and decisions about treatment. I debated whether sharing my terminal diagnosis and decisions could help others. I wondered about the benefits and risks. Would I be marginalized professionally? Would I be attacked for my views and choices? Could going public cause pain to my family?

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The Essential (Before I Kick the) Bucket List

Those of you who have read my previous blogs know that I was diagnosed with Stage IV inflammatory breast cancer in October 2010. You also know that I chose to forego aggressive treatment in favor of palliative care.

Thankfully, my health status has changed little since my last update. I have occasional pain in my right breast, where my cancer began, and a little pain in my lower back, where the cancer has spread. I go to bed a little earlier. Otherwise, I feel like the same person.

Because—thankfully—I’ve been feeling so good, I have been putting off writing a blog that seems to be all the rage with other writers discussing terminal illness: the (before I kick the) bucket list. I have given this some thought over the past two years. For about five minutes I considered a few options: a trip to Antarctica (way too expensive to justify); volunteering in Africa (not a great choice for an immunosuppressed person like me); climbing the Great Wall (done that three times!). Then I realized that it’s not about taking a trip or doing something thrill-seeking and new. I am already doing the things that matter most to me:; making family dinners, talking with my grown children, visiting with dear friends.

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