In our annual HealthLeaders 20, we profile individuals who are changing healthcare for the better. Some are longtime industry fixtures; others would clearly be considered outsiders. Some are revered; others would not win many popularity contests. All of them are playing a crucial role in making the healthcare industry better. This is the story of Min-Shin Chen.
This profile was published in the December, 2011 issue of HealthLeaders magazine.
"The way I look at it is not what could have been, but this is our new life."
A "good day" for family caregiver Min-Shih Chen is often measured by what doesn't happen for his wife Gloria, 71, who is battling Parkinson's disease.
"A good day for her is there are no incidents. She is cared for. She is content. There are no expected illnesses or difficulties," says Chen, 68, of his wife of 42 years. "It's a good day when I can take sufficient care of her. If my wife has a good day, then that makes me happy."
Chen is one of the estimated 65 million Americans—roughly 29% of the population—who provide a total of $375 billion in uncompensated healthcare each year for a family member. That is more than double the $158 billion that is spent on homecare and nursing home services, according to estimates from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP.
Gloria Chen was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2004, and since then it's been a tactical retreat against the relentless degenerative disease. When Gloria, a retired music therapist, was still able to walk, Chen took her to a physical therapist and watched the treatments, using what he learned to help his wife. He devised a set of portable parallel bars in their Ann Arbor, MI, home to help her exercise.
"Since last year she has lost more and more of her mobility. Before that, I had transformed my home more like a physical therapy gym. We did a lot more physical therapy twice a day, to keep her mobility as long as possible. But eventually it was lost," Chen says. "I can no longer do walking with her."