Ineke Gietzman, a Discovery Advanced Illness Benefit Care Coordinator, explains what her job entails.
“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” So the saying goes. And, the spark in the eyes of people who truly find their calling – people like Ineke Gietzman – proves it time and again.
Ineke lives out her burning passion to ensure that people with life-threatening cancers live their last days with quality of life and dignity. This Palliative Care Coordinator’s kind green eyes are surrounded by gentle lines that tell of deep empathy, personal grief and a life lived for others.
Many years ago, when she was 29 years old, Ineke‘s four-year-old son died. Later, she lost her mother to Alzheimer’s. “I suffered complicated grief and felt nobody really knew how to help me,” explains this experienced, registered nurse. “Similarly, life-threatening conditions can rob a patient and their family of dignity without the right support.”
In the world of healthcare funding, Ineke’s role is an innovative one. After 16 years working for the Discovery Health Medical Scheme in various clinical positions, she has found her calling in palliative patient care as a Care Coordinator on the Discovery Advanced Illness Benefit (AIB) Programme.
Patients are referred to the AIB programme by their doctors. Care Coordinators like Ineke manage all elements of the application, funding and referral to the local hospice (where geographically available). Ineke pulls together a case-specific multi-disciplinary team for each patient – a powerful framework of doctors, social workers, nurses, counsellors and more.
One Care Coordinator is assigned per patient and manages all administrative elements.
“We feel strongly that the family and patient should have one point of contact at Discovery Health Medical Scheme so that they can get on with what matters most – caring for their loved one,” says Ineke.
She recalls the particularly touching story of how a young mom, from a low-income family, was managed at home by hospice, a palliative care doctor and home-based nursing care. “She could live out her last wishes – to sit in the sun, to spend time with her three young children and husband, and to create memory boxes for each child before she died at home,” says Ineke. “The AIB programme then provided her husband and children with bereavement counselling.”
The persistent stigma around referral to palliative care worries Ineke. “Many people only register when they have a month or so to live. Yet, palliative care begins at diagnosis of a life-limiting condition, when it’s clear a patient cannot be cured. Given enough time, we can ensure the best possible quality of life, freedom from debilitating symptoms, and time to plan so that cancer patients can live out the remainder of their lives in ways they see fit,” she adds. “When we’re expecting a baby, we do all sorts of things – plan baby showers, consider which doctors to see, where to give birth and so much more. As much as we plan for life, we should also recognise that we are all in a terminal condition and make time to plan for death too, when it becomes necessary for us to do so.”
One needs a fair amount of emotional maturity to do Ineke’s job. “This work touches you in a very personal way. It touches your own pain,” she explains. “You need to be a good listener to meet people at their point of need. Can you imagine being a husband whose wife is dying or a parent with a child who has terminal cancer? We are human. We are on their side when they take the enormous decision to keep a child or partner comfortable at home. We help them to coordinate care needed and develop a relationship with them. We are the helper at the medical aid.”
Ineke is so passionate about her work that, despite her years of experience, she is studying further to deepen her knowledge of palliative care. “I love my work,” she says. “It’s fulfilling to be there for people dealing with deep pain, distress and the anticipated loss of a loved one.”
More about the Discovery Advanced Illness Benefit
Through the Advanced Illness Benefit (AIB), Discovery Health Medical Scheme aims to ensure that members with advanced stages of cancer have access to comprehensive palliative care that offers quality care in the comfort of their own home, with minimum disruption to normal routines and family life.
Palliative care is provided by trained doctors, nurses or care workers in partnership with the Hospice Palliative Care Association of South Africa. Enrolled patients have access to this service through the Advanced Illness Benefit. An individual care plan is developed for each patient, which is then monitored by a care coordinator. For more information on the Advanced Illness Benefit, visit www.discovery.co.za or email AIB@discovery.co.za or call 0860 99 88 77.