Like many department employees, Wendy Walther Davis, medical program specialist, sits in an unassuming office in the belly of an office building where the public does not tread. Also like so many employees, Wendy quietly goes about doing an enormously valuable job. She arranges medical transportation for Medicaid participants with urgent needs.
When we think of medical transportation, the conjured image is a van or ambulance picking someone up, dropping them off, and it’s done. But in Wendy’s world, figuring out how to transport someone is far more complicated, and sometimes life and death. “I don’t just work with transport companies,” she says. “I work with doctors, long-term care providers, government entities, participants, and the participants’ families. I genuinely care about these people. In fact, many of them feel like friends.”
Much of Wendy’s job entails working around obstacles to ensure patients get what they need within the timeframe they need it. On the day we caught up with her she was working to get a terminal patient out of state back to Idaho so they could spend their last days with their family. To accomplish this, she worked with the family to ensure hospice was in place when the patient arrived, worked with the out-of-state provider’s transportation team to make sure they were aware of the patient’s situation and ready in case he passed away during the trip. Although this is not a situation that would normally be attempt by Wendy and her team of providers, they were determined to try because it is “the right thing to do. No one should have to die in a hospital hundreds of miles from their family.” she says.
Wendy has always been a caretaker at heart, and her professional life reflects her dedication to helping others. Before joining Idaho Medicaid, she not only worked as the director of operations for the company that contracted with Idaho for non-emergency medical transportation, she also worked nights and weekends in an emergency room in downtown Phoenix, Arizona. Because of her previous experience and her heart for service, in 2003 Wendy was recruited by a staff member at Idaho Medicaid to run the Medicaid ambulance program.
What does it mean to run Medicaid’s ambulance program? Wendy reviews and approves all ambulance authorizations for Medicaid participants. She works with healthcare providers all over the country to make sure Idaho Medicaid participants get the safest and most appropriate mode of transportation, based on the individual’s unique healthcare needs. Specifically, Wendy approves transportation for urgent and emergency cases that require immediate attention. This often means being flown by air ambulance or transported to a facility that can provide a higher level of care.
Wendy interacts and works closely with many of the families of patients. If a child needs to be flown to another hospital, sometimes in another state, Wendy works to make sure the parents can communicate with the child’s providers, including arranging translation services if the family’s first language is not English. She also works to make sure the hospital has arranged for overnight accommodations for the child’s family. This may include lodging at the local Ronald McDonald house or adding a rollaway bed in the child’s hospital room. She feels strongly that her job is to ensure all aspects of care coordination.
Wendy also works to expand Medicaid’s network of healthcare providers. “Often,” she says, “I have to tap into hard-earned professional relationships with other providers to get the job done. In fact, any time I see a resource that’s not already at our disposal, I contact them and do my best to get them enrolled as an Idaho Medicaid provider.”
Wendy is dedicated to ensuring that participants receive needed services even when those services aren’t available through a local healthcare provider. The healthcare providers she uses are aware of her high expectations regarding customer service, promptness, and providing patient-centered care. For Wendy, it’s all about relationships, connections, and working within the network that she built. “People need to feel important and necessary, and to feel good about the services they can provide,” she says.
Wendy feels that the most rewarding part of her job is being able to help even when the people reaching out don’t think that Medicaid can help them. She loves to be able to pick up the phone and say, “OK, we got it done and here are your next steps.” It makes her feel good that she can help families, facilities, and providers to know that Medicaid can help. “They reach out as a shot in the dark and find that we do have a solution for their issue,” she said. “We like taking care of our participants — that’s what we’re here to do.” She also says that she often wants to thank them for reaching out.
“Even if I can’t help, I can find someone who can. That’s what I love about my job: shattering the image that we are difficult to work with and finding solutions for those who need them most.”
In fact, Wendy’s motto is to “never say no.” She may not be able to do exactly what they want in the way that they want, but she will exhaust every creative outlet trying to avoid the “no” and find the “yes.”
Wendy has a passion for helping older people navigate care. They often call her and are confused and worried that they may have to pay for emergency services when they discover a notice of decision in their mailbox. She reassures them that the bill has been taken care of and helps them understand the jargon that often comes with complicated medical coverage. She also helps them get in touch with their caseworker, other providers, or other staff who can help them. “That’s what we should be doing – helping people. It’s the human touch” she says.
Wendy said the most memorable case she has worked on involved a patient who was cranky, distraught, and extremely challenging to work with. The patient needed to be transported to a different care facility. Wendy reached out everywhere, and an out-of-state provider was the only facility she could find that was willing and able to provide the services the patient required.
To help the process go smoothly, Wendy acted as part angel, part magician, and part diplomat when she met with the patient. She arranged for staff from the out-of-state facility to come to Idaho to meet the patient. When they came, they brought pictures of the facility and the room the patient would live in. The facility was a perfect fit for this patient’s physical and mental health needs, and the patient was excited and thankful.
The next challenge was getting all the patient’s medical equipment to the new home. Wendy put a long-distance transportation provider in contact with the social workers at the hospital where the patient was residing. Working together, they arranged for the patient’s equipment to be disassembled, moved, and put back into place before the patient arrived at the new facility. Meanwhile, Wendy arranged for the group of dedicated providers to gather 30 days of medications and durable medical supplies at the new facility.
The team loaded all the patient’s medical equipment and personal belongings into a cargo van and transported them to the out-of-state facility one day before the patient left Idaho. When the patient arrived at the new facility, the new room was set up and ready. “This experience will always stick in my mind,” Wendy said, “The participant was excited, felt heard and validated, and is now blossoming and thriving in the new home in a way that the patient previously had not. We really affected this patient’s life for the better and that feels great! That’s why we’re here.”
A Day in the Life is a series of stories highlighting Department of Health and Welfare employees and the work they do every day to help Idahoans live their best lives.