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Editorial


Front Page - Friday, May 6, 2016

Chambliss Bahner adds social worker Amy Boulware to elder law team




Amy Boulware is the elder care planning manager at Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel. She’s a licensed social worker who believes a collaborative approach is the best way to serve her clients. - (Photo provided)

The scenario is not uncommon: a family comes to a law firm seeking help with the legal matters surrounding an aging parent. A will is drawn up, a trust is established, and power of attorney is assigned. All of these pieces of tending to the changes that take place in a person’s life as they grow older are important. But they don’t address the questions that remain after the documents have been signed and tucked into a folder.

Perhaps mom has dementia and needs placement or care. But what kinds of care are available? How are they obtained and financed? And what does the family do moving forward?

The answer to these questions is uncommon for a law firm. Instead of letting family members grope in the dark for answers, Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel has added an elder care planning manager – someone who can guide families through the maze of elder care issues beyond the legal pieces and hold their hands as they go. Her name is Amy Boulware.

Boulware has 22 years of experience advocating for and serving elders and their families. She’s not a lawyer, though, but a licensed social worker who believes in helping her clients stay as independent as possible while understanding that, as people age, their needs change. She says Chambliss Bahner’s approach to helping people with the non-legal pieces of elder care is unlike anything else in Chattanooga.

“It looks at a person as a whole and understands that there are going to be crises,” she says. “There will be pneumonia and broken hips. But when the family has the support of a team, that crisis won’t feel as frightening.”

The idea, Boulware says, is to be as proactive as possible. “We get messes we have to clean up,” she says, “but we like to be involved on the front end.”

Boulware and paralegal Sally Brewer do the initial intake. Working together, they learn what’s taking place financially and medically with a client. Then Boulware, who believes a collaborative approach is the best way to serve clients, and the attorneys in Chambliss Bahner’s Elder Law Group devise a plan and present it to the family. “When the family members leave, they have a plan of action, and they know what to do,” Boulware says. “They can feel confident that they’re going to be making good decisions.”

Because each client’s situation is unique, the firm approaches every case differently. “Our approach is very individualized,” Boulware says. “There are no cookie cutter solutions when dealing with elders.”

Once a plan is in place, Boulware handles care coordination. She provides an example:

“We had a client who needed assistance with their medical bills. For some reason, they were receiving bills that provided the name of a place and a huge sum, but no specifics,” Boulware says. “They didn’t know why their insurance provider wasn’t covering it. It was merely an issue of coordination of benefits, but the client didn’t understand how everything worked.”

Law firms tend to favor building relationships with clients and then serving as many of their legal needs as possible. Adding Boulware extends Chambliss Bahner’s ability to keep clients in-house. But the notion of creating ties with a client doesn’t end there. Boulware strives to develop a one-on-one connection with the people who are relying on her help. “If I can develop a relationship with someone, that person will trust us and feel comfortable with us advocating for them,” Boulware says. “We’re trying to be forward thinking in terms of elder care.”

By being proactive, Chambliss Bahner is positioning itself to help deal with a huge approaching shift in the elder care landscape: the so-called Silver Tsunami. This is when 40 million additional Medicare-age patients will flood the already beleaguered U.S. healthcare system as America’s population grows older. “A huge number of baby boomers are aging, and they’re not going to accept the things their parents and grandparents did,” Boulware says. “They’re going to want services and expect assistance in entirely different ways. And they’re going to expect a high level of care.”

In addition to care coordination, Boulware does retirement education. Months before a Chambliss Bahner client turns 65, she meets with them to discuss Medicare and how it works, and cover their options. “About six months before you turn 65, you start getting stacks of stuff. Companies are going to try to sell you different things,” Boulware says. “But elder care needs to be individualized. What’s good for your neighbor might not be good for you. If you’ve been given poor advice and aren’t well informed, you could have issues moving forward.”

Boulware is not new to Chambliss Bahner; rather, she referred clients to the firm for many years in her role as an elder care manager at the Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga. Eventually, she and Dana Perry, the head of the elder law team at Chambliss Bahner, began talking about bringing her expertise in-house. They did some research, and learned that law firms are beginning to move in this direction. Boulware started in January. “By adding different kinds of elder care professionals to the firm, the firm is strengthening its practice,” Boulware says.

Born in Chicago and raised in Tulsa, Boulware says she’s been a social worker since she was three. “I would take care of the kids who were upset about something and crying,” she says. “I would hold their hand.”

Boulware’s compassion and sensitivity served her well as she tended to the aging and sick members of her family, including her mother and grandmother. When her mother died of cancer, her father moved in because he didn’t know who he was without his wife of 48 years. These experiences gave Boulware personal insight into what her clients are experiencing when they come to her for help. “These things happen to every family, and because I’ve lived these things, I have added sensitivity and understanding,” she says. “My mom and grandmother were on hospice at the same time.”

As a knowledgeable professional in issues related to elders, Boulware is a nationally sought-after speaker. She has taught for Southern Adventist University (SAU)’s social work and nursing graduate schools, is chair of both the SAU Social Work Advisory Board and the Atlanta Shepherd Center Family and Consumer Advisory Board, and has served on the Tennessee Governor’s Commission on Aging. Boulware is the author of the “Senior Survival Guide: An Information System Made Simple.”

Boulware is excited to be a part of something new among law firms in Chattanooga, and is looking forward to helping people manage the latter stages of life for years to come. “A lot of people are coming to Chattanooga to retire,” she says. “To be a community in which people want to age in place, we have to make sure we have the resources and infrastructure for them to have healthy, active aging.”