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Project ECHO Series Helps Improve Health Outcomes and Reduce Care Barriers in High Desert of California

Project ECHO Series Helps Improve Health Outcomes and Reduce Care Barriers in High Desert of California
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December 14, 2022
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“I didn't know that I had this education at my fingertips — Project ECHO creates a hugely important community of resources.”

Judith “Judi” Lux, a medical social worker for 40 years, has been trained through the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care ECHO® Program, a continuing education series that enables professional care providers to better understand Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. ECHO aims to improve health outcomes while reducing geographic barriers and cost of care.


“I meet a lot of patients who have Alzhemer’s or dementia, and their caregivers, and they are experiencing huge challenges,” Judi Lux says. “For a lot of people facing dementia, I equate it to movie theater previews. They may not like the feature, but that does not stop it from coming up on the big screen. You may not be able to change the ending, but you can educate yourself, and you can make the path easier than it would be without that education.”

Judi lives and works in the high desert of California, where one of the biggest challenges in the medical field is the lack of local health care resources, especially access to specialists. The ECHO program bridges that gap by enabling primary care providers to better understand Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia and to dramatically improve access to specialty care for rural and underserved populations. 

ECHO is one of the first programs in the country focused on improving access to an accurate and timely diagnosis and receiving quality dementia care in the primary care setting, with topics based on Alzheimer’s Association dementia care guidance for health care professionals. This low-cost, high-impact intervention is accomplished by linking expert interdisciplinary specialist teams ("hubs") with primary care clinicians ("spokes") through teleECHO™ clinics. 

Care topics include everything from education around the signs and symptoms of Alzheimer’s to the evaluation and diagnosis of dementia in a primary care office. The program shares case studies and allows for open discussion, inspiring attendees with new solutions so that they are not only a resource for their colleagues and others in their field, but for their communities. Case-based learning allows all participants to learn from experts in the field through video conferencing, to foster interactive learning.

Improving Access for All

ECHO allows for knowledge to be moved, not people. “Transportation is a huge issue; there is nothing outside of rideshares that will take someone ‘down the hill’, as we say, to see a specialist,” Judi says. “That is why continuing education around dementia is so crucial.” Families often need to travel down to Los Angeles, San Bernardino-Providence and the University of Southern California (USC) for care, and that is a hurdle due to cost and a population that is facing economic challenges. 

One of Judi’s largest hurdles is when patients are referred to her by physicians and nurse practitioners in Orange County. “Patients may end up there for a special need, and then they come back to the high desert, where the resources are not the same. I can see the frustration of families that don't have continued help and support. There is a huge lack of financial resources in diverse and lower income communities, and paying for home care agencies to come in for one hour a month is almost impossible for families on fixed incomes. Paying for those services simply isn't possible.”

To combat these challenges, Judi goes above and beyond in her community outreach, sharing the Alzheimer's Association free 24/7 Helpline and her personal cell phone number with anyone in need. “Sometimes they just need someone else to listen, and I can do that. I was meant to do it.”
 

The Continuing Impact of Project ECHO Education

“There was so much I was unaware of that was going on in the field of dementia care before the Project ECHO training,” she says. “Every chance I get to educate doctors, I take. I want doctors to properly test and diagnose people, and to do that, you need to understand the signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia, the behaviors, and the stages of the disease

I was in awe of the things I learned about the research happening locally in California and from the faculty members in the ECHO series, including gaining knowledge from two of the faculty members from the ECHO series, Dr. David Reuben of UCLA Health and Dr. Esmaeil Sebti of Desert Oasis Healthcare.” 

It was important for Judi to learn more about the different stages of the disease, and the need for advance care planning, which is something she learned a lot about while working in hospice care. “There were so many families who had no plans in place when it was almost too late.” She says that it was also valuable to be reminded of tactics like alarms on doors and gates for those prone to wandering, and how to best approach those events. “I hear about that behavior so often, and for a single person who has quit their job to care for a loved one, wandering can be the scariest battle, because it can happen day or night.”

It is Judi’s hope that more health care professionals will become educated through Project ECHO in order to better communicate with each other and to better coordinate care for their patients. “I value those who work in the field and know that they can all benefit from these programs, as I did. Being open and willing to learn and to accept that you have options and tactics that can work is the first step. We all have the ability to learn something new every day, and the brain is so complex that we all have new things to learn about it.”

Judi knows the facts and figures of Alzheimer’s and knows that as the number of older Americans grows rapidly, so too will the number of new cases of Alzheimer's. “How do you maximize the time you have on this earth with your memory, and how do you cope as a caregiver, and become prepared for the next steps and stage of the disease? The Project ECHO training talked a lot about goals, and how to take action early, when options are wider. Being proactive in the beginning is as important for families as it is for doctors, and sometimes for you as the person with the disease.”

Judi continues to lead the way with love, respect, understanding and patience as she works with patients facing Alzheimer’s. “Project ECHO is a wonderful program that I feel so blessed to participate in. I just hope that everywhere this is available, people will take advantage of furthering their dementia education, whether they are a doctor, certified nursing assistant, facility director or dementia care program director. You cannot put a price tag on the information shared. I am grateful for what I have learned and what I continue to learn, because sharing that information is what is most important to me, for my community and for all those affected.”

The Alzheimer’s Association is committed to ensuring that people with Alzheimer’s dementia receive high-quality care and support in long-term care and community-based settings. To meet this commitment, the Alzheimer's Association also offers professional care providers the opportunity to participate in the Alzheimer's and Dementia Care ECHO Program. Learn more about the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care ECHO program

About The MolinaCares Accord
The MolinaCares Accord, in collaboration with Molina Healthcare of California provided funding to the Alzheimer's Association to offer the Project ECHO education series to healthcare professionals in the Inland Empire region of Southern California, where Judi Lux practices. 
Established by Molina Healthcare, Inc., The MolinaCares Accord oversees a community investment platform created to improve the health and well-being of disadvantaged populations by funding meaningful, measurable, and innovative programs and solutions that improve health, life, and living in local communities. The MolinaCares Accord funds such measures through The Molina Healthcare Charitable Foundation, a 501(c)(3) established in 2020 by Molina Healthcare, Inc.


About: Judi serves communities in the high desert area of the Inland Empire region of California, where there are workforce shortages and underserved populations in need of dementia care and support. A medical social worker at Providence-St. Mary Medical Group, Judith “Judi” Lux, 78, has been married to her husband for 52 years. They have four foster and adoptive children, one who has since passed away to God. Judi is also a facilitator for GriefShare.

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