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Problem solver helps elderly, families in crisis

Geriatric care management is a fairly new profession, but it's spreading as more people need guidance in trying to assist their parents or grandparents.

There are several ways to describe what Christina Martensson does for a living. But here's the bottom line: She helps people when they, and their aging family members, need it most.

Martensson is a nurse, a medical social worker and a certified geriatric care manager. She blends those areas of expertise to help prepare health care plans, cut through red tape and otherwise assist people who are trying to help their elderly parents or grandparents.

Most of her work is done in crisis situations.

Some people spend months, even years, caring for elderly relatives. The caretakers might live locally, or they might live out of state and arrange for care by telephone.

Then, all of a sudden, the person who needs care becomes sick or injured. The routine is turned upside down, and the caretaker must confront a host of new questions: Does the senior need to go to a nursing home? If so, which one would be best? What about financial and legal issues? Power of attorney?

Martensson can visit the home, assess the situation and help the caregiver find the answers quickly by accessing a network of medical, legal and financial experts. Her background and education help a lot; so do her three years of experience working in Citrus County's home health industry.

"They (clients) don't know where to call," she said. "I'm the person that assures the access to the needed services.

"They are so exhausted from caring for their declining family member they don't know where to turn to," Martensson said.

Martensson's company is called Advanced Geriatric Solutions, or AGES. The company initially included four women who worked in geriatrics; when the partners decided to pursue individual interests, Martensson kept the corporate name and continued offering her services.

"This is a fairly new profession," she said of the geriatric care management field, which was featured last month in the Times' Seniority section.

But word is spreading, and Martensson is getting more and more clients.

"It's getting really, really hectic," she said.

One recent client was Anne Truta, an Ocala woman whose mother needed to go to the hospital last month for a myriad of medical problems. A financial adviser recommended Martensson.

"She's just fantastic when it came to helping us out here," Truta said. "There are a lot of things we didn't know. I said, "We need more of these,' " she recalled.

"My goal is to maintain the well-being, independence and dignity of the older family members, and to be sensitive to the families' needs and resources, and to (help seniors) stay in their home environment as long as possible," Martensson wrote recently.

Martensson can be reached at 746-5056.

News and notes

The old Heritage Hospital building is back in the news.

Universal Health Systems, which owns the now-vacant structure off County Road 491 in Lecanto, recently filed suit against a company that backed out of a potential sale.

The lawsuit, pending in Circuit Court, alleges that in October, Guiding Light Healthcare Services Inc. agreed to buy the hospital for $4-million. Guiding Light deposited $200,000 into an escrow account held by a realty company until a closing date.

When Guiding Light failed to close the deal, it also failed to surrender the $200,000 deposit, the suit alleges.

Mario Anzalone, a Guiding Light official from Citrus County, said through a spokeswoman that he had no comment on the suit.

Heritage, a psychiatric hospital, closed its doors last year amid financial and Medicare problems.

Consumers aren't the only people who sometimes find Medicare billing procedures confusing. Doctors and other health professionals do, as well.

To help make the system make more sense, the federal Health Care Financing Administration, which oversees Medicare, has partnered with a Florida agency to start a $1.3-million education campaign.

The program will feature free, interactive computer courses and national satellite broadcasts.

Working with the federal agency will be First Coast Service Options, a subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, which administers Medicare. The nationwide campaign will build on the success of a 1998 pilot program, in which Florida participated.