Welcome to Care Guides of Castlight, a series of personal profiles of Castlight Care Guides. Our Care Guides are a diverse group of clinical, billing, and benefits professionals who help our members navigate the healthcare system, maximize their benefits, and manage their health. We are excited to introduce you to them and to the important work they do!
Pam Koelbel has been helping those in need since a young age. It’s a habit she learned from her parents — her father a veteran and physician, her mother a nurse until age 83. They both made sure to tell their five children about all the different tragedies and people they encountered while on the job. “They never sheltered us from human suffering,” Pam says.
With Pam’s parents leading the way, serving others became her family’s guiding light. While living in Nebraska, for instance, her dad allowed a homeless family to stay in a small shelter on their land. Each Christmas, she and her siblings gave away at least one gift each to that family’s children.
Pam’s desire to help people combined with her curiosity about the medical field led her to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing and a minor in psychology. After graduation, she began her career as a nurse in an intensive care unit. About five years later, she decided to go to graduate school, where she earned two master’s degrees — one in public health administration and one in nursing — in addition to becoming certified as a family nurse practitioner and a community health clinical nurse specialist.
Since then, many of her positions have focused on nurse education, such as serving as the medical surgical nurse educator at one hospital, where she assisted the ICU educator, and serving as the education director at two others. She eventually transitioned into case management, which is what led her to her current role as a Castlight Care Guide.
Pam loves that, as a Care Guide, she has the opportunity to “positively impact and potentially transform” the wellbeing of so many people around the country. “My dreams of alleviating unnecessary suffering, equalizing healthcare access, maximizing benefit use while reducing spending, and delivering culturally congruent care have all been realized at Castlight,” she says.
For example, a member named Meg* recently reached out to Castlight via chat expressing she has a long history of anxiety and depression and was feeling overly stressed due to the pandemic. The Care Guide who intercepted the message alerted Pam because she has extensive experience in behavioral health. In her free time, Pam volunteers for the Salt Lake Suicide Prevention Coalition and LOSS (Loved Ones Suicide Survivors Support Group), among a few other organizations.
After confirming Meg had no suicidal ideations and had a safe suicide prevention plan in place, Pam stayed on the phone to see how else she could help. She learned about Meg’s complicated health status and spoke with her about the value of making appointments with a psychologist, a primary care provider (PCP), a pulmonologist, and a few other specialists to help Meg’s specific health conditions.
“We both recognized at the outset that I could really help her by finding providers who were accepting new patients and schedule all her appointments for her,” Pam says. This included figuring out providers’ COVID-19 protocols and paperwork requirements.
“My dreams of alleviating unnecessary suffering, equalizing healthcare access, maximizing benefit use while reducing spending, and delivering culturally congruent care have all been realized at Castlight.”
Pam’s first goal was to help Meg obtain mental health support, which proved to be very difficult, as most high-quality psychologists are booked for at least six months and the pandemic has caused further chaos in the field. Many of Pam’s calls and voicemails to potential providers went unanswered, but she kept trying until she was successful. Today, Meg has a mental health therapist with whom she has regular virtual appointments.
Pam’s second goal was to find Meg in-network providers who were cost-effective, geographically desirable, and, if possible, female (per Meg’s stated preference). Pam says she “wanted to ensure Meg had the support of high-quality providers within the same health system so she’d have safe, sustainable care coordination and receive the right care at the right time.”
By the end of the year, Pam assisted Meg in taking many positive steps forward in regards to her health, including (but not limited to) helping her find a female pulmonologist, schedule necessary testing and other appointments, and better understand her health insurance. She also encouraged Meg to finally make an appointment with her hematologist, which she did. Meg has now received much-needed iron infusions.
Overall, Meg “was very appreciative,” says Pam. “She said she could have never accomplished as much without Castlight’s services.”
This is a very condensed version of all the time and effort Pam dedicated to helping Meg with her personal healthcare journey. She has continued to reach out to Meg almost every week since they first spoke to check in on her emotional wellbeing and progress with appointments. Now that Pam has helped Meg get set up with the necessary providers, she will help Meg find a long-term case manager.
Pam’s professional history is incredibly helpful in her role as a Care Guide, but her personal experiences also help her understand the challenges some members face and how these challenges can become barriers to achieving and maintaining optimal health.
Throughout her life, Pam has experienced extensive bullying, helped a sibling navigate substance abuse, lost her father to suicide, dealt with her own chronic health conditions, and much more. “I think I can relate well to a lot of different situations and people because I have lived through some tough things myself,” she says.
Pam wants members to know that “Care Guides are resourceful and the keeper of secrets, very approachable, accepting, and non-judgemental. Nothing shocks us and we keep things private. Don’t suffer or struggle in silence or go it alone. Ask for help.”
When she’s not working, Pam and her husband love spending time outdoors, whether they’re hiking, biking, fishing, boating, swimming, or just taking in all the beauty nature has to provide. She’s also quite crafty — and even creates miniature art, like tiny dollhouse furniture.
*The member’s name has been changed to Meg for confidentiality.