Meet Healthcare Case Manager Barbara Kolonay: Assuring End-of-Life Care for Seniors, Alzheimer’s Patients

Thursday, March 29th, 2012
This post was written by Cheryl Miller

This month we provide an inside look at a healthcare case manager, the choices she made on the road to success, and the challenges ahead.

Barbara (Bobbi) Kolonay, RN, BSN, MS, CCM, Owner of Options for Elder Care, Medical Care Management Services for Seniors

HIN: What was your first job out of college and how did you get into case management?

Barbara Kolonay: I worked at a large university teaching hospital in Pittsburgh on a medical floor. It was during the time of the nursing shortage, so I was put in charge as a graduate nurse my second month, working alongside new interns and residents. I had to learn fast and furiously, but thus began my excellent clinical base of knowledge.

I arrived in case management when the term was just being defined in the mid 1980’s. I was one of five working on a “trial” to see if the concept of managed care would be effective in improving the care and cost of the insured population. Within three years there were over 300 employees, so I moved rapidly into a management level position at a young age. This was all before children, which changed my career devotion.

Has there been a defining moment in your career? Perhaps when you knew you were on the right road?

I think the defining moment in my life was when I had to manage the care of my aging, post CVA (cerebrovascular accident) mother through every level possible in the continuum of care. I was consulting all of her roommate’s families, friends and even the nursing staff on how to navigate all the aspects of managing care for the elderly. I had been working about 10 years by then, part-time, as a hospital/ER case manager in the large university hospital where I had started my career; I was also teaching managed care at a local university in an RN-to-BSN program. My part-time position was eliminated due to budget cuts. At the time I was devastated, because I didn’t want to have to work full-time with three children and my teaching position, which I loved.

But losing my job was the best thing that ever happened to me. I filed for unemployment, and as part of my unemployment benefits was offered free classes on how to start your own business through a local university. I thought of what I had done for my mother, and how there was a need for someone to guide and direct families of the elderly through the continuum of care. I developed a business model for medical geriatric care management, and from the moment I opened my business in 2002 it was a success. Not just a financial success, but an emotional success: I felt as though I was finally using all my knowledge and intuition to really improve the remaining life of the elderly.

In brief, describe your organization.

Options For Elder Care is a private pay geriatric case management firm located in Pittsburgh, PA that treats the whole aging person. We help families manage all the dynamics of care for the aging client through the continuum of care. Families find out about our services through word of mouth, physician referral, elder law referral or our Web site. We conduct in-depth assessments that look at all the issues of the aging: medical/physical issues including medications, legal concerns, financial issues including qualifying for entitlement programs, psycho/social, holistic, insurance, and environmental issues. We then compile this information into a comprehensive report, and as a final step, meet with the entire family to review the report and develop a mutual plan of care.

What are two or three important concepts or rules that you follow in case management?

  • We use a family-centered approach to case management
  • We work with a very large multidisciplinary team including physicians, holistic practitioners, home care agencies, hospice agencies, attorneys and financial planners, to name a few.
  • Our motto is to provide the most care and cost effective service; statistically we save the client more money than they spend on our service.
  • We make sure that each and every one of our clients lives and dies with dignity.
  • What is the single most successful thing that your organization is doing now?

    We are having tremendous success managing and assuring quality of life with a group of individuals the medical community has given up on…..those with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. Where modern medicine often fails this group, ancient medicine and holistic practices is working!

    Do you see a trend or path that you have to lock onto for 2012?

    With medical reimbursement declining for readmissions of specific diagnoses, I do wonder why insurance carriers/hospitals do not look into partnering with medical geriatric care managers. My clients rarely are admitted to the hospital and when they are I follow them, directing their care through the continuum.

    What is the most satisfying thing about being a case manager?

    I literally improve the quality of life of every client that is accepted to our service.

    Where did you grow up?

    Pittsburgh, PA.

    What college did you attend?

    Duquesne University is where I got my BSN and La Roche University my MS.

    Is there a moment from that time that stands out?

    I minored in philosophy, which I believe is what led me into exploring my life calling on a deeper level.

    Are you married? Do you have children?

    Yes, I’ve been married almost 30 years, and have three children, one out of college and financially independent in L.A., another in college and a 14 year-old still keeping me busy as a mother.

    What is your favorite hobby and how did it develop in your life?

    I have always enjoyed all athletic things like running, skiing, golfing, tennis, etc. I use them as a stress relief.

    Is there a book you recently read or movie you saw that you would recommend?

    I am incorporating holistic medicine into my practice so I have been reading books and taking courses on aromatherapy, acupressure, shamanism, reiki, energy work, etc. I find it so natural and pretty amazing to work with the natural intuitive abilities of your spirit.

    Any additional comments?

    I would love to see more medical case managers enter this field. I know it is frightening to take the jump of starting your own business, but the rewards are amazing and it is a natural transition for case managers, given their in-depth knowledge of the healthcare system.

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