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Constants in Care

Shriners Hospitals Celebrates Quartet for Care Managers Week

Jen Grab was having a tough day.

When part of your job is battling finicky insurance companies over why potentially life-changing surgeries should be covered, it happens.

But when she started talking about how the patient from Africa whose care she helped coordinate at Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis took the first steps of her life, her eyes lit up above the COVID-protecting surgical mask she wore. “Her whole goal was to walk,” she said. “To see her walk for the first time and have her give me a high-five as she did, it makes it all worth it.”

Jen is part of a four-person team of care managers at Shriners Hospitals for Children — St. Louis, led by outpatient clinic manager Chris Kitchen. She and her colleagues – Courtney Merlenbach, Janet Schick and Mary Towers, have a combined 87 years of health care experience as Care Managers Week 2020 unfolds Oct. 11-17.

“It’s comforting to have that wealth of knowledge, especially as the health care industry changes,” Chris said. “They build off each other. No matter what, the job gets done.”

That job is a challenging one. Beyond dealing with insurance companies, it includes things such as translating a physician’s plans for a child’s care into language a family can easily understand.

“We’re there from the beginning with the child and the family when they come to Shriners Hospitals,” Courtney said. “We are the constant for that family. It’s rewarding when you see a kid two or three years after a procedure and see the difference it’s made in their life.”

Mary is the newbie on the team. She’s been a part of the quartet for just more than a month, but has 26 years of experience with Shriners Hospitals as an inpatient nurse and clinic charge nurse. “What I’ve seen in just my first month with them is how very dedicated they are to the patients,” she said. “They bring a level of calm and organization that makes the care better.”

Indeed, dedication and organization are two of the qualities Chris lists as “must-haves” for care managers, along with innovation, multitasking abilities, communication skills and trouble-shooting prowess. When she thinks about the care managers, Chris is able to pay them the ultimate compliment: “I would let any one of them take care of my kids.”

So yes, there are tough days. But there are also times when a child they have known since she was less than a year old comes by for a follow-up appointment as a teenager and seeks them out as they would a favorite aunt at a family reunion. That makes dealing with the insurance companies something they embrace.

“When you see how desperately a parent wants to bring their child to Shriners Hospitals, it makes you want to fight for them,” Janet said. “When you hear a mother say, ‘You’re the only place that gave us hope,’ you realize why you do what you do.”

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