This month’s Health Care Trailblazer, Margaret Wilmer, is an influential leader and the new Director of Community Health and Older Adult Services at El Camino Hospital located in Mountain View, California. Her previous work has included a position at On Lok Lifeways focusing on the aging population. Her early influence and passion for the senior care industry along with her taking on a wide range of health care positions has made her a perfect candidate for our OpenPlacement Health Care Trailblazer feature interview. I was fortunate enough to track her down for a phone interview recently and here is what she had to say:
Tell us a little bit about your background. I see you recently joined El Camino Hospital – What exactly is your role there?
I have been in healthcare my whole career and have had many different positions in the field, most recently working at On Lok Lifeways in aging services. At On Lok Lifeways, I oversaw marketing and outreach. In prior positions, I was a strategy and operations consultant for many different types of providers and payers; held marketing and business development positions in in medical devices and drug delivery, as well as operations management for post-acute care.
Currently, I am the Director of Community Health and Older Adult Services at El Camino Hospital. My role is to help develop a comprehensive and cohesive program for older adults, manage a number of our older adult programs, and contribute to community health initiatives.
Tell us how you got to where you are today? Were there any obstacles and/or challenges you had to face to get where you wanted to be?
I have intentionally pursued a variety of functional experiences, in management, marketing, and product development – kind of like a mosaic of experiences. I think that has helped me get to where I am today because it provides me with a really broad but also, in many cases, a deep understanding of the challenges in healthcare and the issues that the healthcare industry is facing. An early career challenge stemmed from not coming from a clinical background, however, with inquisitiveness and good mentoring, I was able to learn a great deal of relevant clinical and technical knowledge along the way. For example, as Administrator, I worked closely with the nursing and medical team to learn about diagnoses and the care pathways. In the medical device and drug delivery arena, I gained a good understanding of pertinent engineering concepts and product development process. You can always turn challenges into ways to grow professionally.
How did you find your passion for the senior care industry? Why does it interest you?
I actually was interested early on in aging services by doing service projects in high school. I went to a Catholic high school, St. Francis High School, and I was working at some senior programs locally. In addition, my aunt was a hospital administrator as well as a Catholic nun – she was a great role model. Her compassion, passion, and ability to really impact a population was what sparked my early inspiration. The older adult population, particularly the frail elderly, really needs to have wide support and resources. Early on, I found a passion and interest in contributing to an effort that could be sustainable, impactful, and helpful to a needy population. For me, that is aging services. This stems from the values I was brought up with.
What do you see as the biggest challenges today for the aging population?
On a national level, we are all aware that there are so many people moving into this aged population group. Providing care and assistance is going to be challenging given the financial, human, and care resource limitations. One of the biggest challenges is going to be finding a way for people to be able to stay in their home setting for as long as possible, and finding the right caregiving and caregiver resources. Affordable housing is particularly an issue for older adults as their income declines after employment ends. Transportation is another key issue. Many older adults no longer drive and do not live in locations with available affordable transportation to go to the doctor and social outings. This contributes to social isolation, which can lead to depression and worsening medical conditions.
When it comes to care coordination – What do you see as the major hurdles and challenges for the aging population?
Accurate, up-to-date information on aging services options. A lot of people do not know what options are out there for the different levels of care. There is a need for close coordination from inpatient to outpatient setting to enable appropriate transitions to be made back to the community. There is a great deal of room for community-based and healthcare provider organizations to communicate more with each other, to develop more efficient and transparent communication processes, to collaborate to find the best solutions for seniors. This will allow them to make sure that the next level or the next place that person is going will meet the needs.
What do you view as some of the best resources for information and data around quality of care providers (i.e. Assisted Living, Independent Living, Homecare, etc.) that are out there?
There are not that many good resources for these levels of care settings and providers. There are some resource listings, which provide the names and locations for these different providers, but as far as finding the actual quality of care provided, there is a big deficit. I know currently there are a lot of initiatives out there that try to put together some quality measures and to make quality more transparent. This is a key missing element right now.
What is the most important thing to think about and keep in mind when finding a care provider for a relative, friend or one you are caregiving for? Who should people trust for this information?
I think it is important to work with an agency, social service organization, or at least have some mechanism to do a background check and skill assessment if hiring independently. Though there are a number of wonderful caregivers out there, there is a risk to hiring directly. It is extremely important they have the skills and a credible background, since in many cases caregivers are going into the person’s home and frequently working one-on-one without other people around.
It is so easy in today’s day and age to find information about a hotel, restaurant or even an amusement park. Why do you think there is a lack of information and transparency when it comes to care providers?
The main reason is that there has not been a system put in place yet. There are licensing bodies but there are no formal, widely accessible mechanisms for consumers to add their comments and feedback regarding experience with specific providers. However, I do believe a tool is coming as I have heard of some innovations where organizations are trying to create an internet-based, Yelp-like review system for providers and have a more accessible set of data out there for individuals.
Finally, what do you love most about what you do?
I know I am helping make a positive impact on people’s lives. Especially at El Camino Hospital is such a great organization that is genuinely committed to serving the health and wellness needs of the community. I am very fortunate to be part of such an organization because I know that the positive impact provided will continue to be substantial.
Do you know a Health Care Trailblazer? We are constantly on the lookout for those who are making big waves and especially in the aging space. Nominations and suggestions for future leaders to interview can be submitted to us via Twitter @OpenPlacement. See all those we have interviewed in the past here.