Social Worker Supports Caregiver Through Husband’s Long-Term Care and Beyond

The physical and mental load of a family caregiver is significant. In addition to the hard work of caring for their loved one, caregivers often suffer from sleep deprivation, emotional and physical stress, and depression, among many other symptoms. Stress is exacerbated for everyone when the patient is in decline, forcing caregivers to make difficult decisions about long-term care.

In her job as a VHAN social worker, Amber Colbert has helped countless patients make the transition from hospital to a skilled nursing facility. Typically, Colbert works with Medicare patients 65 or older, monitoring their health care journey and helping them find the right facility when needed.

That experience served her well in her care for an Alzheimer’s patient and his caregiver wife. Colbert first met the couple after the husband was discharged from Vanderbilt University Medical Center and sent to a nursing facility. Separated from their regular primary care physician and confused about her husband’s care options, the wife was overcome with stress. Colbert stepped in to close the care gap and provide comfort, understanding and guidance on next steps. 

“They had been married since they were very young, and this was the wife’s first time being without him,” Colbert says. “She was overwhelmed by her husband’s need for post-acute care, and I became a trusted advisor. I offered support and encouragement as she navigated this unfamiliar space.”

With the goal of getting the patient home, Colbert began empowering the wife, letting her know about her rights and educating her on what she should expect at the post-acute facility. In large part because of this guidance, the wife gained a new confidence in managing his care, dealing with people at the facility and making sure things happened as they should.

When the husband took a turn for the worse, Colbert was there with anticipatory grief support that helped the wife process this seismic change in her life.

“I spoke with the wife weekly for nearly a year, and we developed a very special bond, one that feels very unique in health care,” Colbert says. “I view that as an immense privilege, to be let into people’s lives in that way.”

The morning her husband passed, the wife picked up the phone and called Colbert. “She called me that morning, and she told she would really appreciate it if I would go to his funeral,” Colbert says. “We had built this relationship in his care, so I was happy to go. It was a nice culmination of that relationship and all our work together. There was a finality for both of us.”

To refer a patient to the VHAN Care Management program, VHAN members can fill out this form or call (615) 936-2828.

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