Help for those with acquired brain injuries
Keeping those with brain injuries at home, while recovering, is a goal of this unusual program

BLUE RIDGE BUSINESS JOURNAL- JANUARY 30, 2006

BY: GENE MARRANO

A Blue Ridge Region couple who learned firsthand about the lack of available therapies for those with acquired brain injuries were inspired to form The Jason Foundation and then Brain Injury Services of Southwest Virginia, now based in Roanoke.

Jason Rooker accidentally hanged himself and was without oxygen for up to 10 minutes; he lost a 16-month battle in 1997 despite the best efforts of parents Greg and Fran Rooker, who had worked with the 11-year-old after the accident, trying to help Jason regain the use of his arms and legs.

The Rookers discovered that after Jason left the hospital, there was little long-term care available and none of it was covered by insurance.

They decided to help others facing the same predicament. First came the non-profit Jason Foundation and subsequently Brain Injury Services of SWVA. Executive Director Helen Butler calls the community-based program (modeled after one in Northern Virginia with the same name) unique to the region. ‘We go out there and meet with [clients] in the home or work environment to help them adapt whatever way they need to.”

Keeping brain-injured clients in the community rather than in an institution or nursing home is the primary goal, according to Butler, who calls the ”intensive case management” provided by her organization much more focused than what is available from government offices that do not go out into the community or supply the funds necessary ‘for a variety of different things.”

Adaptation

That means physical or emotional adaptations to brain injuries that can be caused by stroke, vehicle or industrial accidents, etc—but not congenital brain defects, which the organization does not work with. Funded with state money and private contributions, an annual late-summer charity golf tournament is a major draw.

That public-private partnership allows Brain Injury Services to be more flexible, says Butler, in considering what they can provide to clients. The federal Olmstead Act requiring disabled persons to stay in the community whenever possible has helped improve the funding climate for agencies like Brain Injury Services.

Some clients learn how to play golf again, even from wheelchairs, while others must relearn much simpler tasks such as loading a dishwasher or performing other chores. A network of case managers recruited by Brain Injury Services is helping more than one hundred people in southwestern Virginia these days. Clients are not charged for services, which average around $2,700, according to Lead Case Manager Kristin Beindorf. Life skills training and case management services for brain injuries are not covered by health insurance companies.

Satellite offices in Radford and Abingdon help Brain Injury Services of SWVA (www.bisswva.org) cover the entire region. “We identify what the family needs and then we match them up.” says Beindorf of the case management philosophy. That even includes respite care for the families of brain-injured people needing some time away. A documented, acquired injury and referrals from doctors, nurses, spouses or other family members leads new clients to the agency.

‘Renewed Focus’

Stepping into a territory where insurance companies and traditional health care providers are not found now is the mission, adds Beindorf, noting that “it devastates the whole family” when a loved one is impaired. Recent news about the stroke of Israel’s Ariel Sharon, the surviving Sago Mine survivor in West Virginia and Dick Clark’s labored appearance on New Year’s Eve have helped put renewed focus on brain injuries, she adds.

Any therapies that are covered by insurance carriers are “nowhere near adequate to get the person back on their feet," says Linda Turner.  She should know: her husband Jay died after suffering a stroke and coping with the side effects of his brain injury for several years. She first became involved with a support group and then went to work for Brain Injury Services after Jay, a commercial food appliance installation specialist and business owner died. “That’s how much I believed in it,” says Turner, who is now director of admissions.

Jay Turner had been one of the first clients for Brain injury Services, progressing to the point where he could swing a golf club again after being seriously affected by the stroke and cerebral hemorrhage that shut down a quarter of his brain. “The group of people that work in this [field] have so much passion for each other and [clients]," says Beindorf. “It’s just a devastating time. It’s not like you see on TV or in the movies where they just open their eyes [and are cured]. It’s not even close.”

Butler serves on a number of statewide boards including the Brain Injury Council of Virginia, which advises the Department of Rehabilitative Services. “It’s not as prevalent as it needs to be throughout the state,” she says of the support and comfort Brain Injury Services of SWVA has provided since 2001.
(Gene Marrano is a Roanoke freelance writer:)

 


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