a support system for improving the quality of life

Nonprofit Helps with Health Bills

From Carroll County Times, Sunday, January 17, 2010

Lou Yeager said he deals with a lot of sadness and depression in his work.

“What we see here is the human tragedy.  My friends are sick people,” he said.

Yeager founded Catastrophic Health Planners, a nonprofit with an office in Westminster that helps Americans from all over the country deal with bills, insurance and any other concerns when they face a major health crisis.

“We see mental health, child molestation–it’s not just cancer,” Yeager said.

For Carole Strumsky, her catastrophe was cancer.  In 2007, she had already had emergency surgery to remove a disk in her back and have a titanium cage implanted.

“I was in a walker when they diagnosed me with lymphoma,” said Carole Strumsky, who has lived in Finksburg with her husband Charles since 1979.

After Charles retired, he got a part-time job, but he and his wife had to purchase their own insurance.

Carole said the fees were very high although she didn’t want to reveal the cost.  Despite Charles working part time, during Carole’s illness he needed to take time off to help care for his wife and go with her to doctor’s appointments.

“The bills got bigger and bigger,” she said.  “We found ourselves in a spot that we didn’t exactly create.”

Carole found out about Catastrophic Health Planners in the summer of 2007, from a friend who had used their services before.

Before going to see Yeager and his organization, the Strumskys prayed.  She didn’t think there were services available for her or her family, because she had a roof over her head and her husband worked.  She thought people had to be on welfare or living on the street to get assistance.

“He’s worked hard his whole life to be a good provider,” she said of her husband.

Just a phone call away

In addition to Yeager’s wealth of background, Carole Strumsky said she was taken by the empathy and compassion she found in Yeager and his staff.

“I love his motto: ‘You are not alone,'” she said.  “We felt alone by our circumstance.  He explained things we didn’t know about the system.”

The Strumskys were also inspired by Yeager’s personal story.  Yeager himself has gone through a catastrophic health event.  In 1986, he was diagnosed with small cell nodular lymphoma.  He was given six months to live at the age of 33.

Instead of accepting his six-month prognosis, Yeager sought other professional opinions.  He had a bone marrow transplant in 1991 and then a blood transfusion every day for two years.

While in the hospital receiving his transfusion, Yeager would go visit with other patients to learn what their struggles were and then see whether he could fix them.

Out of that, CHP was born, officially getting its start in 1993, and despite Yeager’s health struggles, he and his staff managed to help out as many people as possible.

Today Yeager has offices in Westminster and just recently opened another in Florida.  He said his organization sees about 250 clients a month.

Despite surviving more than 20 years since his diagnosis, Yeager still has health struggles and said doctors predict his cancer will return.

He said he does see a lot of cases, and in some instances he can’t help everyone.  He tries not to judge whether people deserve help.

“You better not be judgmental.  You better help people because you want to help them, because we all make mistakes,” he said.

He recalled dealing with patients who didn’t have health insurance because they were trying to save for retirement.  He recalled a patient who had cancer and didn’t get it checked out until the tumor broke the skin.

“She didn’t know about free services.  She didn’t go to the doctor because she didn’t have health insurance,” he said.

He said that even though such patients should have gotten themselves to a doctor, it doesn’t mean he shouldn’t help them.

“You made decisions about where you were going to put your money,” he said.  “I’m going to try to figure out a plan regardless of your bad decision.”

Yeager said that for most of his patients, the struggles are cyclical.

“You start getting co-pays, you don’t have enough money for food,” he said.  “In the meantime, you’re sick as a dog.”

Someone to lean on

Carole Strumsky said Yeager helped her get through her cancer diagnosis.  She applied for early retirement, but she and her husband still pay for their independent insurance.

She said that along with his information and connections, Yeager was able to provide a support system, someone to lean on.

“A support system is vital in these circumstances,” she said.

Despite having to deal with chronic pain in her back and another emergency surgery, Carole Strumsky said working with Lou in 2007 helped her and her husband out tremendously.

“What Lou helped us with at the time has had lasting benefits,” she said.

Reach staff writer Erica Kritt at 410-857-7876 or erica.kritt@carrollcountytimes.com.

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