As part of a lifestyle and aging series, we’re working with renowned photographer Terry Lorant to showcase inspirational leaders in the industry. Each month, we’ll feature one or a few inspirational member(s) of the Amazing Care Network community who is using his or her voice to empower others in the collective aging experience — and read, in their own words, what the Amazing Care Network’s efforts mean to them.

This month, we’re proud to feature Emily Santiago, Chief Human Resources Officer at University Health Alliance (UHA), and Alan Wong, an employee also at UHA.

Emily: The Amazing Care Network (ACN) was first introduced to UHA when our CEO, Howard Lee, was in discussions with Cora Tellez about Sterling Administration managing our Flexible Spending (FSA) and Health Savings (HSA) accounts.

 Cora invited me to her annual Human Resources Thought Leaders Luncheon. It was at one of these luncheons where she introduced ACN to Hawaii. I later attended the first ACN Tea in Honolulu which was fabulous. Cora brings in subject matter experts to talk about different health topics.  The teas also provide an excellent venue for networking. As a result of the quarterly teas another group formed that meets on a monthly basis.  That’s what it’s about, networks of people supporting each other.

Howard models an innovative leadership style that motivates me to think about new ideas.  It occurred to Howard and I that we have employees who accumulate more than their maximum allowable Personal Time Off (PTO) hours.  Rather than losing those extra hours, we now cash out these hours and put the monies into their ACN account.  When Cora first developed ACN, it was marketed to individuals and not employers. UHA has taken it to a new level by offering the program to our employees and covering the administrative fees. I was immediately sold on the idea and became a member myself.

We at UHA believe in “eating our own food,” meaning we pilot new programs internally before offering them to our health plan members. UHA was the first employer in Hawaii to offer an HSA plan to its employees in 2015.  

In 1995 my mom was diagnosed with leukemia, leaving my sister and me to take care of her. She was from Tahiti and moved back to Hawaii when she became ill. We didn’t realize how sick she was until she was admitted to the hospital the day after she arrived. It was that bad and that fast—they started chemo right away.  At the beginning of her treatments she would walk me to the elevator after my visit and kiss me goodbye. She even quilted a few Hawaiian pillows until she became too weak to continue. Unfortunately, a few months into her treatment, while back at home she fell and we noticed her face drooping. We rushed her to the hospital and our suspicions were confirmed—she’d had a stroke. That amplified everything and her health progressively worsened.  My mom, who was such a strong, independent woman, now having to depend on somebody else was so frustrating for her, and hard to watch.  She lost her ability to walk and speak and take care of herself.  We had to learn so many things—how to carefully get her out of bed in the middle of the night to get her to the bathroom, to give her a bath, the simple necessities of care.  My sister and I lived at our parents’ home and I worked full time during the day. When you have to get up in the middle of the night to care for someone, you don’t get a good night’s sleep. It was really rough and we were exhausted. The disease progressed quickly; she passed away six months later. When you have an experience like that, it impacts how you think and how you see life.  It’ a tough thing to have to go through. When caring for a loved one it’s important to take care of yourself first, especially when working full-time. Secondly, having a support network is key.

 I have rheumatoid arthritis (RA). Knowing that I have RA, I don’t want my daughter to be burdened with that caretaking role.  So the ACN makes sense to me!  I want to make sure I am prepared in the event I or another family member needs support. 

I’ve been at UHA since 1996 and am blessed to have the privilege to work with a wonderful group of people who truly care about each other, a real ‘ohana (family) environment.  As we were onboarding ACN at UHA, we had a heart wrenching and impactful situation arise.  A coworker’s son, who was 14 at the time, was diagnosed with a devastating illness.  As we all wondered how to offer support, we had the idea—what if we opened up an ACN account to help this family?  And then coworkers could contribute payroll deductions directly into that account. So we did that—and our people rose to the occasion. Cora also reached out to other ACN members who generously donated to his account. We continue to pray for healing. He is doing well.

Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. George McPheeters, is instrumental in providing support to my coworker and his family.  Another benefit of the ACN program is the Physician Friend of the Family—it’s a key component.  They help ACN members make informed decisions. My three-month-old cousin was diagnosed with cancer just after birth.  A little baby! We sat and listened to what the doctors were saying, and it was overwhelming. A Physician Friend of the Family could offer valuable support in this stressful situation.

UHA is looking into incorporating ACN into next year’s focus on empowering our members to take financial matters into their own hands and saving for an emergency.

UHA employee, Alan Wong recently faced a family emergency and we asked him “how he came to know about the Amazing Care Network, and how/why is it important to him?”:

Alan: I don’t know if you know about my son and his medical situation.  Actually, my company (UHA) opened an account for my family.  I didn’t know anything yet about Amazing Care.  The company has been great to our family. Back in March, Justin, my 15 year old son was diagnosed with brain cancer.  It was just a total shock to all of us.

He starting having headaches.  Then one day he told my wife that he was having double vision.  That led to his diagnosis, I felt like my world was ending.

UHA is such a great company.  They’ve taken care of my family.  They opened up an Amazing Care account for us.  The company contributed money, and my coworkers contributed to the account.  It was so touching. Fortunately, we haven’t had to use the funds yet.  But it’s amazing to experience that care for my family.

My son is doing pretty well.  He was diagnosed at stage four and he had two surgeries within three days.  The first was to deal with the clot that was causing his headaches, the second one was to remove the tumor.   The surgeon was just amazing…he was recommended by our medical director.

This was six months ago.  He’s going really well right now, he’s back in school, and our life is pretty much back to normal.  And his recent MRIs keep looking better and better.  He has another one scheduled for January, and hopefully everything is clear by then.