It’s probably safe to assume no one learned how to sail like a 9-year-old Karen Curtiss did on a lake in Michigan decades ago—all by herself, on a Sunfish, with a Sailing 101 book.
And Karen’s mother, Margaret, fully endorsed the baptism by dire straits.
“My mother,” Curtiss recalls, “handed me the sailing book. She encouraged me to figure out sailing on my own. I remember, while I was on the boat, opening the book, seeing a picture of a boat part, looking for that part on the boat, and thinking, ‘OK, so this is the tiller.’
“I also went sailing the next day, this time with an 8-year-old. We kept capsizing. But we laughed a lot and had fun. Sailing was a family sport back then, and I try to sail as much as I can today.”
Karen Curtiss—who grew up in Lake Bluff, graduated from Lake Forest High School, is the mother of two sons and two stepdaughters, and lives in Lake Forest—navigates aplenty on land, too, helming The Care Partner Project that she founded in 2009 as a Board-Certified Patient Advocate.
“It’s not easy, navigating our health care system,” Curtiss says. “Any patient, no matter what kind of insurance coverage they have, can fall through its cracks, because most of us have never been trained to self-advocate. Nothing prepares us for such a task. But it’s critical that people get the care they want for the people they love. The Care Partner Project provides guides and the tools for preparation and peace of mind.
“Hospitals,” she adds, “work hard to make care safe, but it’s no secret that our medical providers are stretched and stressed. You’ll never get a 1:1 patient-to-nurse ratio at a hospital; you have to expect a 5:1 ratio, or an 8:1, or even a 10:1 Inevitably, cracks in care occur, which accidentally harm more than 12 million patients every year in the U.S.”
Her nonprofit’s mission is dedicated to demystifying care (hospital stays, surgeries) with plain language and simple “To Do” checklists (downloadable for free, at thecarepartnerproject.org) to help Care Partners support loved ones’ care with confidence and grace.
Patients, therefore, are spared preventable harm during hospital care and get the correct diagnoses and treatment plans.
A frantic phone call from one of Curtiss’s friends more than a decade ago led to the formation of The Care Partner Project. The friend called after her husband collapsed on a golf course and was transported to a hospital. The friend was aware that Curtiss’s father, Bill Aydt, who’d undergone a lung transplant in 2005, had endured a series of preventable medical complications—infections and a blood clot that traveled from his arm to his new lung, to name a few—in a “Super Star” medical center.
Mr. Aydt, a serial volunteer and an expert in Organizational Development, died in the reputable hospital more than four months after his doctors had predicted he’d be able to resume playing golf.
Heeding a Care Partner checklist would have prevented his death.
“My friend told me, ‘I’m confident they can take care of my husband’s condition, but I’m worried about a hospital infection,’” Curtiss recounts. “She then added, ‘You have had a lot of experience in your family with them. How can I help prevent my husband from getting an infection?’”
Curtiss was stumped. But she stayed up most of the night for her friend, researching Superbug infections prevalent in hospitals and protocols for warding them off. She visited the World Health Organization and Center for Disease Control and Prevention websites.
Curtiss then created a checklist—which would become The Care Partner Project’s first checklist—and delivered it to her friend’s doorstep the next morning, along with a bag of infection- prevention supplies from Walgreens.
“Her husband,” Curtiss says, “was released, hospitalized many times after that, and never once suffered a hospital infection with my friend on guard.”
Through generous donations, The Care Partner Project provides grants to professional patient advocates for service to patients and families with limited resources or no insurance. About 95 percent of donations go directly to helping patients who are alone and uninsured.
The Care Partner Project helped an advocate arrange hospice care for a homeless woman dying of cancer. An impact grant from the project assisted a determined advocate who called and nudged and pushed organizations and manufacturers on behalf of a double-hand amputee who’d been told to “adjust to life without prostheses” by an insurer; the patient ended up receiving prostheses and undergoing an extensive rehab program.
“As a patient advocate, I know that people are resilient when they have the tools to help them overcome challenges they face,” Curtiss says.
A nursing school in South Korea contacted The Care Partner Project recently for more information about its mission and checklists. So did a patient safety organization in Australia.
“Our mission,” Curtiss says, “is my passion, my reason for being, as is my devotion to my kids. I grew up in a household with parents who loved to tell me, ‘Follow your passion.’ I’ll never stop doing that.”
Curtiss didn’t just attend Lake Forest High School. She loved attending it. It was where she stayed super busy, served the Student Council, and joined the school’s first environmental club, Clean Land Air Water (CLAW).
She graduated from the University of Oregon, after designing her major—one with a concentration in statistics, “because I’m not good at math and statistics tell stories,” she explains. Curtiss launched a marketing research business and folded it (but kept a few clients) after the birth of her first child.
She also worked for Abbott as a consultant.
Looking for advice on sailing?
Seek Curtiss. And nobody else.
“I’m a Pisces; I’m a water person,” cracks Curtiss, who no longer has to crack a book on board. “Sailing, for me, is like a little getaway. You’re out there, on a lake. It’s peaceful. And then you get to look back at land. “Sailing always gives me wonderful perspective.”
For more information, call 888-885-9376 or visit thecarepartnerproject.org.