Can One Person Change Our ‘Sick Care’ System?

by Joel Theisen, RN

At the core of our humanness is a yearning to connect – whether that means to our inner spirit or the world around us, we are not meant to be alone in our ability to survive. And yet, that is exactly where the current healthcare system leaves us – alone with a fragmented, complex, siloed system of care, where frailty, increased medications, frequent hospitalizations, and illness are synonymous with aging – it’s all normal, right? The vision of seniors slumped over a wheelchair in a nursing home is not the experience that people want, yet it’s the brutal reality many face.

More than likely, it’s not the vision of how you personally want to age either. That’s why chances are, you are the one who can help us change our ‘sick care’ system. It all starts with a ripple effect…but first we need to understand why a change is needed.

We have a ‘sick care’ system, not a ‘health care system. The traditional model of senior care is broken. It is no longer relevant to the active minds and spirits of today’s seniors who want to live with purpose and passion. It also doesn’t produce the outcomes or cost savings demanded today. The landmark Medicare study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009 and subsequent reports by the Dartmouth Atlas of Health Care show that current health and senior care models have done little to change those outcomes.

Transforming the healthcare system is my mission, one I formed early on in my career after witnessing seniors (or as we like to say at Lifesprk ‘people in the second half of life’) on and off ‘the roller coaster of health care crisis’ where seniors were in and out of the hospital and ER —seniors were living longer, but not better.

I had to change that experience, improve health outcomes long-term with a whole person approach, and stop the roller coaster cycle which has caused skyrocketing healthcare costs for both the senior and the system as well as rapid health decline.

Meet Betty, Lifesprk’s muse, a client whose experience highlights where our healthcare system disjoints. After her husband died, Betty was grieving. Understandably she wasn’t eating or sleeping well. So she stopped taking her medications which were upsetting her empty stomach. As a result, in the middle of the night when she got up to get a glass of water, she became dizzy, fell, and broke her hip – a far too familiar story.

The medical world singularly focused on fixing her broken hip. And they did.  However, as happens all too often they overlooked identifying the root cause – why did she fall, why did she not take her medicine, why was she not eating?

These human issues fall beyond the scope of medical practice today and yet are integral to creating a whole person response that seeks to heal Betty’s broken heart at the same time as healing her broken hip.

At Lifesprk, we have seen the difference in people’s outcomes, purposeful living, and overall total cost of care when a whole person approach to wellbeing is used to keep them healthier and independent longer amid the life challenges that will inevitably come.

Lifesprk is not alone in their quest to create a new direction in healthcare. By partnering with Minka and Intermountain Healthcare for example, we are uniting our voices and working together to create change across the country by offering more person-centered opportunities for people to age the way they want (something we call ‘living a sparked life’). We also know these innovations, while great, are not enough on their own to create the momentous change needed.

We all need to play a part.

By awakening ‘sagers,’ we can unite even more voices to reinforce that the vision of seniors slumped in a wheelchair is no longer ‘normal aging.’

We believe, and have seen, a better vision of aging – one that’s full of promise (with a spark) helping you age magnificently.

As fellow sager Rick Moody often states, all great change comes from the fringes. Here are actions you can take to help build the momentum from the fringe:

  • Engage others in discussions about new visions for aging well, aging purposefully, aging magnificently
  • Share your conversations on social media using the hashtags #ChangingAging or #AgeMagnificently
  • During doctor visits, ask questions about living with purpose, interventions to decrease social isolation, improve engagement
  • Demand to be more than a diagnosis
  • Look for programs and services who have demonstrated their ability to deliver whole person care
  • Read the book ‘Being Mortal,’ by Dr. Atul Gawande then share it with friends and family to spur conversations about what is important to you and to them
  • Look for service options that promote preventive approaches to keep you living as independently as possible rather than just reactive care
  • Inspire others to age magnificently through your actions

Can one person create the change that is needed to shift the ‘sick care’ system to a true ‘health care’ system? Absolutely. We believe it starts with each of us. These ideas all create a ripple effect towards change – starting with one change-maker, you.

How will you be the one person to change the ‘sick care’ system? Share your ideas!

(And check us out, we’d love to have you contribute to our blogs, share your wisdom, and learn more about innovative models like  Lifesprk.)


Joel Theisen, RN, is the CEO of Edina-based Lifesprk and Salt Lake City-based Homespire, an Intermountain Healthcare Company. Lifesprk was a gold sponsor for our recent Sage-ing International aConference.  Joel has over 27 years of experience in the healthcare industry with specific expertise in home- and community-based elder care. Under his guidance, Lifesprk, has been one of the fastest growing companies in the Twin Cities since its founding and has won numerous awards for its culture. Known as a business innovator, Joel has also continuously earned leadership accolades. Joel began his healthcare experience as a critical-care nurse at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, then honed his corporate experience as the National Director of Private Pay Services for In Home Health, a national provider of comprehensive home health services. He graduated from Viterbo College in La Crosse, Wisconsin with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.