Having co-founded Benefit Performance Associates, and with a career spent counseling people with problems, it’s only natural Maria Kuhn became managing partner of BPA in 2011.
Through the years, Kuhn has led a talented group of professionals who’ve implemented the Integrated Health Advocacy Program®, which has teams of three experts working together with a patient, or participant, who has been dealing with at least four chronic health conditions for the past 18 months or more.
For Kuhn, it’s another chapter in her professional lifetime of being a counselor.
She holds a bachelor’s degree from Dominican University, and a master’s degree in Pastoral Studies from Loyola University, along with a master's in counseling/psychology from Brighton University.
“That was related to what I did for the first 12 years of my career, working in the Catholic educational system as a teacher. I then was a director of religious education for St. Louise de Marillac in La Grange Park, and later was the director of religious education at St. Thomas the Apostle in Naperville," Kuhn says.
It was in the early 1980s, when she was completing her master’s degree, that she began considering starting a private practice. She saw health care becoming "an entity, a consumable product," and didn’t care for that. She saw people struggling with fragmentation of health services.
That led to her meeting with other professionals who shared some of the same concerns, and worked with that multidisciplinary team to create and design IHAP®.
The early days were challenging.
“It was brand new territory in terms of identifying what our target product would be, what our mission was, and who we were going to address," Kuhn says. "That’s when we decided instead of looking at the ‘worried well,’ the 80 percent of a population who may have one or two chronic illnesses, we would set our sights to those who have four or more chronic conditions, people who are complex in their needs and really impacted by the fragmentation, and lack of communication.
The chronically ill having many doctors who do not communicate with each other was the norm in 1999, Kuhn says. IHAP addresses that by having a primary advocate, a psychosocial advocate and a medical advocate. The “three-legged chair” requires each member on the team to work together as a single unit.
To stay fresh, Kuhn works on a team now and then, and she encourages clinical leadership to do the same.
"If you’re training other teams, I didn’t want us to get to the point where it’s more academic than real,” she says.
Training is done in threes. Three members of a team training three new professionals.
“So, they’re not only learning how to work as a team, but they also see what it’s like when a mature team works together, the mutual respect, the asking questions of each other,” Kuhn says.
The three members of each team must be consensus-driven where the participant is concerned. If they can’t come to a consensus, it’s the obligation of the primary advocate on the team to decide what is in the best interest of the participant, Kuhn says.
Kuhn realizes that everyone now and then stumbles. And that’s okay.
“People may feel down after a while. They may 'fall off the wagon.' But we’ll say ‘Look at the progress you’ve made,’ and remind them of their successes," she says.
Kuhn is hoping IHAP will one day become the norm, not the exception, in health care.
"That’s always been the dream of the founders of this program, that this is the way health care is delivered," she says. “The goal today is not just to manage chronic disease, but to help people eradicate it.”