The Role of Case Management in the New Normal

Case managers already have a complex job helping and advocating for clients as they navigate the ever-evolving health care system. However, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it even more challenges and complexities in health care delivery, making case managers needed now more than ever. And throughout the pandemic and beyond, case managers have heeded the call and been there for their clients.

What changed during the pandemic for case managers? According to MaryBeth Kurland, CEO of the Commission for Case Manager Certification, some case managers were called to work on the frontlines, but most case managers were working remotely (57%) with limited contact with clients and patients (55%). This change in work created some challenges, including 40% of case managers reporting that they fielded more questions than ever from clients and patients.

What was surprising about the results of this survey with more than 5,900 respondents is that many case managers themselves reported new burdens outside of work. Among these case managers, 30.5% reported income loss, 21% reported clinical health issues, and 16.6% reported food scarcity in their own lives. Most distressing for MaryBeth and her colleagues, 5.3% of case managers reported losing loved ones to COVID-19.

What the New Normal Holds in Store for Case Management

Times of crisis often beget creativity. Despite the challenges and uncertainty, case managers also report being hungry to learn more and continue serving their mission of improving the lives of people in need. Case managers and their leaders are exploring new ways to innovate through the new normal of living with the health, social, and societal impacts of COVID-19:

  • COVID-19 has increased social needs such as hunger, homelessness, and unemployment. How do case managers close the loop on social needs? Every day, 2-1-1 helplines respond to nearly 40,000 calls for help, carefully tracking each need. We know that COVID has increased social needs in communities across America. We also know that the non-medical challenges that patients and clients face are often tackled with help from case managers. Case managers are increasingly going beyond just screening for these needs, to intervening around these needs, helping “to meet the challenges of a global pandemic with new ideas, new processes and creativity that will benefit patients for decades to come,” as described by Pamela Andrews, the President of the American Case Management Association.

  • The pandemic has placed unprecedented pressure on behavioral and mental health services. What are the best ways to support case managers? Living through the pandemic experience will certainly leave a lasting impact on all of us and our communities at large. From anxiety and depression, to social isolation, to substance use, the pandemic has accelerated the triggers of these and many other behavioral and mental health conditions. As frontline generalists, case managers support all of these concerns - while often managing their own concerns. Mental and behavioral health concerns may be manifesting for years after the pandemic - making now the time to invest in efforts to better integrate behavioral health services into case management, across the board.

  • With more services being utilized, individuals are transitioning between many diverse health and social care providers. Who do case managers consult with for successful transitions of care? Bonnie Geld, the president of the Center for Case Management, recently shared thoughts with the Institute for Healthcare Improvement on the power of case managers to support patient flow. The work of case management is expanding to encompass not just medical care, but also behavioral and social care. This is a step in the right direction for patients, but changes the nature of the role of care manager. As Bonnie explained, “Effective case management has historically been an important tool for helping to manage flow. It will be even more critical as organizations face not only the typical challenges of managing patient volume and capacity, but also the added stressors of the short- and long-term effects of the coronavirus.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has driven healthcare, social services, and government leaders to make changes and shifts that were previously thought impossible. From accelerating virtual care, to developing entirely new integrated models of care, leaders have had to adapt like never before. But the dramatic changes in 2020 may only be the beginning.

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