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Sara Shular: leading a compassionate team by example

Sara Shular has built a career on putting her own needs second.

After receiving a bachelor’s degree in psychology, she found herself at a crossroads as she considered whether to pursue her PhD. Inspired by long, moving conversations with a close friend who had counseled victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, she went on to earn a master’s in social work and an MBA in health care administration.

“I always knew that I wanted a job that would be more than just a job,” Sara says.

“I wanted to connect with people, to be part of something bigger than myself.

“I’ve been fortunate to find that with the team I have here.”

Sara, a care coordinator manager who’s been with BlueCross for more than seven years, isn’t short on stories about her team or members they’ve helped. Ask about her colleagues, the CHOICES care coordination program or what a typical day looks like, and you’ll get a detailed account of how a difference was made in someone’s life.

Take for instance:

  • The member who didn’t want a wheelchair ramp built outside her home because she didn’t want to be seen as disabled. (Sara helped develop a plan to have a ramp built in her garage so she could easily get in and out of her car and leave her home.)
  • The physically disabled mother and developmentally disabled son who didn’t want to be separated. (A member of Sara’s team personally decluttered their home so they could pass inspection and avoid eviction.)
  • The member who needed help setting up her apartment after leaving a nursing facility. (Sara picked up her medications, went to the member’s home, unpacked boxes and set up medical equipment.)

“I manage [care for] a few members myself,” Sara says. “I enjoy getting out of the office, away from the computer and phone, and actually meeting with members. Any given day I can have such a different experience.”

These stories don’t come from a place of pride or boasting, but rather the joy Sara derives from helping others.

“The most rewarding aspect of my job is making a difference for people,” she says.

“Through CHOICES – which provides in-home care and assistance for Medicaid members – we find out what people truly need and then see them succeed. To see people have hope for their future makes all our efforts worthwhile.”

The longest night

One incident stands out as the culmination of those efforts, an incident Sara remembers well. On Nov. 28, 2016, as wildfires began to rage in the Gatlinburg area, she was in a hospital dealing with a death in the family.

“I got a notification on my phone while I was still in the hospital room,” Sara remembers. “I knew Adam [Davis, care coordinator] covered that area. He was already on it.”

As the fires spread, members were contacted at a rapid pace. Eventually, all but one – a disabled member whose home was at the epicenter of the blaze – were accounted for. Multiple calls to family and area emergency response went unanswered.

Sometime after 11 p.m., an officer raced across back roads, swerving past cut power lines, and reached the home as fires burned surrounding structures. With no time to spare, he evacuated the member and her husband, driving through flames to escape.

Sara was unable to receive an update until the following morning, all the while experiencing a whirlwind of emotions – concern for this member’s safety, relief upon news of her rescue, and confidence and pride in her team’s ability to ensure the member had everything she needed once her whereabouts and health were confirmed.

“What care coordinators do on a daily basis is incredible, but it’s not typically life-or-death situations,” Sara says. “This member had to leave everything behind. Adam worked throughout the following day to make sure she had all of her prescriptions refilled and all the medical equipment she needed delivered.

“I truly believe that if we hadn’t stayed on top of everything that was happening,” Sara adds, “we would have had a different outcome.”

Pinnacle Peace of Mind Award winners
Because of their service and dedication, Sara and members of her team (Adam Davis and Alison Fox, center) were awarded the BlueCross Pinnacle Peace of Mind Award in June 2017. Pictured at left is BlueCross CEO JD Hickey, M.D.

‘The rock’

Sara is quick to attribute any and all success to the group of people she’s fortunate enough to work with.

“What sets my team apart is their compassion for others and willingness to go above and beyond,” she says. “They work late, get up early, check on members during the weekend, swing by on their way home from church, you name it. Even though we’re independent, we depend on each other if need be. I never have to worry about my team.”

That respect goes both ways.

“Sara is our rock,” says Alison Fox, another care coordinator involved in that night’s rescue.

“The way she retains information amazes me. We get so much thrown at us every day. She always knows exactly what to do and walks us through it. We constantly tell her she can never leave us.”

Adam agrees.

“Sara has been the most supportive supervisor I’ve ever had,” he says. “If I need Sara, she’s always there. If I forget something – which is easy to do – she’s always there to remind me. I don’t ever feel like I can’t talk to her. She’s not the boss – she’s the leader.”

Managing the clock

Despite the dedication of the care coordination team, Sara stresses the importance of work-life balance. When not in the office, she enjoys spending time with her husband, Steven, and their two children, Hunter, 8, and Peyton, 3. When we spoke, she was looking forward to a well-earned family vacation to Disney World and hiding painted rocks for other kids along the way.

“This is the best job that you will ever have because you can literally work from anywhere at any time – which can also make it a difficult job,” Sara says. “Balancing that with family is sometimes hard. But I love my job. I always tell my team that they’ll have to drag me out of here if they ever want me to leave.”

About Jesse Thompson, Senior Communications Specialist

A photo of the authorJesse joined the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee corporate communications team in 2017. A Chattanooga native, he has more than 15 years’ experience in content creation, management, and strategy for consumer audiences, including a six-year stint in health care marketing.

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