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  • Peak Integrated Healthcare Team

Open Letter from a Patient Advocate

It was about 25 years ago that I was first called an “Advocate.” The origin of this word’s timeline for me, then, places me as a child. I first learned to advocate for my extremely sick younger sibling, and then for my epileptic mother, as it always happened to be me with her each time she had her most major seizures. Without surprise, this was around the time where I became fascinated with the human body, and was known to steal my dad’s college textbooks as a small girl and read them into the late hours while he was pursuing a degree in microbiology. Today, I work with a multidisciplinary team of providers to advocate for injured patients and to develop teaching protocols/refine systems to teach and mentor young professionals how to be assistants of clinical advocacy for our wounded. Although I can count the years I have spent with Peak Integrated Healthcare on just one hand; the official record of my exposure, experience and training goes back 16 years. I first began my journey as a healthcare professional in the realm of nursing care, and spent many of my first years administering end-of-life care to terminally ill patients. I’ve always believed that this was a key element in my ethical and professional development, because there is no greater teacher about human life than the one who is at the end of theirs, and there is arguably no other type of patient whose care so desperately depends upon competent and ethical practice. After some time had passed, I moved on to develop new expertise, and I broadened my training and education to include pain and disease management education. I learned from my teachers here amidst what we call palliative care (care intended to ease suffering) that the human body is in fact so intelligent that in many cases, if you can just quiet the noise of pain, the body will speed up its own intuitive processes of creating the remedy for what ails it.

After some years of this development, I resigned from my position to care for my firstborn child, who was born without an artery to connect her heart to her left lung. This condition caused her to be gravely ill from 3 months of age, but not diagnosed until she was on life support at 8 months. The years that followed were a blur of advocacy and sleepless, fearful nights. For every new surgery, there was a slew of necessary coordination points. For every new treatment plan, there were hours and days of battling with insurance companies, advocating for my child against non-medical professionals who were convinced they knew better than her doctors about which medications should/shouldn’t be required to manage her health complications. During this time, I experienced the corruption in the healthcare systems, and the words of my father’s seasoned perspective became more and more glaring: “they don’t even call them patients anymore—the decision makers—behind closed doors these patients are just ‘customers.’” When I finally returned to the field, I found myself too defeated and demoralized to even continue, injustice seemed to have permeated the entire field, and I stepped down from leadership positions with two other providers before taking a sabbatical for some time.

It was by happenstance that I stumbled upon this company and was welcomed on board with Peak IHC, at a time when I wasn’t certain that I had any faith in anything good remaining in the field. I was asked at the time to translate what I had learned so far into a new sort of practice: injury rehabilitation. I learned during my training here that where palliative care aims to ease suffering, restorative care demands that a person enter more deeply into it, in order to support and encourage the body’s intuitive rebuilding mechanisms—to keep it strong while it heals and grows anew what has been damaged and lost. I watched hundreds of patients battle their own minds and bodies into agreeing to the work that all rehabilitation requires. I found this to be valuable insight about the balance which humans really require in order to thrive: sometimes to suffer AND sometimes to be comforted. Sometimes to work tirelessly AND sometimes to rest. I found these themes repeating and replaying on the clinical end of this rehabilitative work as I learned for the first time how to balance my own life against this professional realm of sacred work that I actually believed in for once. I paid close attention to our advocacy Doctors and how they incorporated these principles into their own practices, and became a student of their modeling of balance and ever-growing expertise which they offered as living examples to patients and staff alike.

Many of the injury cases that we receive at Peak IHC belong to patients who come to us with already-disputed insurance claims. So many of these patients have already been burned by healthcare professionals who have sent them on their way with no solutions to speak of, no true path to healing without fighting a complicated battle that they do not understand. We find this reality to be true most frequently for injured workers who are facing the Workers Compensation system. Many of these hard-working people have been injured severely enough that every layer of their life is forever changed, but the insurance systems seem to regard them as mere robots who should only require a quick tune-up from a doctor of the company’s choosing, for no more than about a week before returning back to their regular job duties, most of which require demand levels that are no longer possible for the worker’s still-healing body, meanwhile bills are mounting with no gainful source of income to settle them.

This reality creates a very real need for a unique element of clinical care in the field of injury rehabilitation: the need is for Clinical Advocacy. This specialization is the future of justice in healthcare, as attorneys or state-appointed advocates rely and depend upon clinical expertise in order to dissolve claim disputes which have prevented access to the treatment or benefits this victim should be entitled to. It is out of this need that Peak Integrated Healthcare was born: our Doctors have decades of experience in expertly navigating the maze of evidence-based care, patient rights, the limitations of the law, and co-operation with attorneys and ombudsman to give every effort to overcoming obstacles on behalf of our patients. Our patients feel truly seen and truly valuable under care of our team of advocacy experts, they have regarded our care as monumental in turning “no’s” into “yes’s.” Exposure to this culture has reinforced my passion for the healthcare field. Our decision makers honor their oaths as Doctors, they don’t refer to ‘patients’ as ‘customers’ even behind closed doors and our teams are equipped to coordinate and jump through loopholes so that hurt people can focus instead on their road back to themselves and their lives. Our patients (and on many occasions, my personal acquaintances) have remarked that it seems like this work is personal to me, and they are right—this is why: because I have been a person who is concerned with the welfare of the vulnerable throughout my entire life, because I have been the vulnerable one. It is personal to me because I have seen enough to know that personal investment needs to be the responsibility of every healthcare professional in the field. It is personal to me because it is personal to the Doctors, who have an ethical and legal duty to each of their patients. It is personal to me because it is personal to them. It’s personal because when human life is involved, it should always be personal.

Kaitlyn Opdahl

Patient Advocate and Project Manager
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