Trained emergency responder, mother of two and active community volunteer Alison Fox rarely has time to herself. And she wouldn’t have it any other way.
The CHOICES care coordinator and Blount County resident is selflessly devoted to her faith, her family and to the members she serves.
Answering the call
Whether or not divine intervention played a role, Alison’s medical background prepared her well for assisting homebound members with physical and mental disabilities. Medicine runs in the family: Her father and brother are pharmacists and her mother is an EMT. Her career began at 15 when she started volunteering in the local hospital and ambulance service and continued immediately following school when she began working in an ambulance as a trained paramedic.
The constant adrenaline rush was key to making it through frequent 24-hour shifts.
“When most people are running away, you’re going in,” Alison says. “In some cases, I was climbing down cliffs to reach people, watching the air ambulance touch down, all that stuff that most people don’t want to see. I never wanted bad things to happen to people, but I know that is inevitable. So I was thankful that I could be there to help during these bad times.”
Though helping others remained her passion, Alison wanted a medical career more conducive to family life with husband Michael, son Jonah (now 16) and daughter Kyla (9). She joined the staff of a nursing facility as administrator of assisted living. There she found her love for geriatrics – a population of which many “are in the greatest need,” she says.
Many of the residents were fortunate enough to afford professional caregiving services and could decide independently when to seek them. Getting to know those who weren’t as fortunate led Alison to ask some tough, introspective questions.
“I would see many people going into a nursing home and wonder, ‘Is there not something out there that can help them stay at home?’” Alison says. “A lot of times, I just didn’t understand.”
She found the answers she was seeking when she joined the CHOICES team of care coordinators in March 2016. Through a partnership with the Division of TennCare, CHOICES provides long-term services and support for members whose health conditions necessitate help with activities of daily living.
“Through the services we provide, we are able to help people stay at home longer,” Alison says. “Our members would most likely have to go to a nursing home prematurely without our services. It makes my heart happy to see these systems working together on behalf of those in need.”
“To see someone be able to stay in their own home safely, where they’re comfortable, is by far the most rewarding part of my job.”
For care coordinators who are constantly on the phone with or traveling to meet their members, there is no typical day, as Alison can attest.
“Every day is different in CHOICES – there’s always something new,” she says with a chuckle. Fortunately, the program’s foundation is built on identifying where qualifying members fall in three different levels of care.
- Group 3 members are at risk for placement in a nursing home facility.
- Group 2 members meet the requirements to be in a nursing facility, but CHOICES can provide the level of care needed to keep them in their homes safely.
- Group 1 members are unable to remain their homes and require services provided by a nursing facility. CHOICES care coordinators continue to monitor that care to help ensure members’ needs are met.
“The closest thing to a typical day is starting my morning by finishing documentation from the day before,” Alison says. “After that, it’s a lot of phone calls. Sometimes those calls are treatment-related, and I’m talking with members about scheduling appointments, coming out to see them, getting their services in place or just following up to make sure their needs are met.”
“Two or three calls out of my day are just my members needing someone to talk to. That’s all they want, and I’m happy I can be their ear.”
Alison’s day also includes home visits with the members she currently serves in Knox County – visits that can often occur after quitting time.
“Care coordinators get most of their work done during the 8-5 hours, but there are many times that we work into the evening and night-time hours,” she says. “Oftentimes I have members who have had major medical issues that require follow-up, and a visit outside of normal business hours works best for them.”
To the rescue
Normal business hours certainly weren’t a factor during the wildfires of 2016 that swept through Gatlinburg and other parts of Sevier County. Though none of Alison’s members were in the direct path of the blaze, her colleague Adam Davis had a Group 2 member in the heart of Gatlinburg. Attempts to reach the member and emergency response were unsuccessful.
“We dial 911, and it’s busy,” Alison remembers. “What do you do when that happens? That’s scary for anybody. As a former emergency responder, I knew they were overwhelmed up there.”
Using her emergency response contacts, Alison was finally able to get through and explain what she feared was this member’s life-or-death situation. A police officer sped his cruiser over downed power lines, past burning trees and roads, and through thick plumes of black smoke to reach the member’s home. Once there, he had to quickly place her in the back of his cruiser as the flames threatened to consume them.
Hours later, Alison and her mother packed their van and were on their way to Gatlinburg. As former Red Cross volunteers, they had a long history of community service and disaster relief, including after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Once they arrived, Alison was relieved to hear that the member and her husband had been safely evacuated, taken to a shelter and already had gone to stay with their daughter in Maryville.
Alison and her mom spent several days traveling back and forth to Gatlinburg, volunteering with Smokey Mountain Resort Ministries. Her tireless efforts during the member rescue ordeal helped earn her the BlueCross Pinnacle Peace of Mind award, which she shared with Adam and supervisor Sara Shular.
While the award recognition was an unexpected and appreciated, Alison is more grateful for the contributions made by her loved ones in the wildfire aftermath.
“All three of them went to the shelter with me for a few evenings to help,” Alison says. “It makes me so happy that my husband and children also have hearts to serve. Seeing them carry in donated items and take the initiative to jump in and help wherever they were needed made me smile, and I am so thankful to be blessed with this family.”
Between member visits, church functions and volunteer efforts, free time may be a luxury, but Alison makes the most of it with her family – a family that takes several forms.
“Family’s a huge, huge part of my life,” she says. “I couldn’t do my job without their support. My parents live close by, and almost every night we set up tables in my living room so the whole family can eat supper together. You have to lean on others, and for some people it’s easy. They have family, and it’s amazing for them to jump in and help. When members don’t have family, we as care coordinators become their family. And it’s very important for us to play that role, be that advocate and stand up to make sure they’re well taken care of.”
A big part of that role? Creatively working with the time and resources you’re afforded.
“I like to find ways to help others,” Alison says. “I can’t think of anything that better suits my life.”