By Vanessa Orr, South Florida Hospital News, for ACHE of South Florida
As the co-owner of JKARE, a company that offers clinical respiratory care services and home medical equipment and supplies in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Karen Alba is responsible for making sure that patients with respiratory issues and chronic conditions have access to the care they need. The mother of a son with cystic fibrosis, she also serves as a patient advocate in Tallahassee, FL and Washington, DC, working with policymakers to provide insight into the needs of people with chronic conditions.
Alba began the company in 2010 with her husband, who is a respiratory therapist.
“We were looking for ways to help cystic fibrosis patients and realized that these types of services were not only needed by the cystic fibrosis community, but by other groups as well,” explained Alba, who also serves as the company’s vice-president and general manager. “We started JKARE and little by little, we were able to grow into helping other segments of the community.”
The company now provides care to people with cystic fibrosis, COPD, pulmonary fibrosis, ALS and other neuromuscular diseases and more. In addition, Alba has spent the last 10 years advocating for the well-being of these patients.
“In the beginning, no one wanted to cover the services we provided, so I started with insurance companies and ended up in Tallahassee talking to Medicaid,” she said. “I explained how my husband provided care to our son, who has a chronic condition, and how that care, including a daily regimen of respiratory therapy, kept him out of the hospital for more than a decade.
“They started believing me, and now the insurance companies are willing to review coverage on a case-by-case basis,” she added. “Not only are they covering the services we provide, but even services that they didn’t previously cover.”
When some health insurance regulations required that those with chronic conditions go out into the community for occupational, physical, speech and respiratory therapy, Alba went to battle. “I called everybody to get that rule changed,” she explained. “People making policies behind a desk do not know how their decisions affect people; every single day is a challenge for our patients, and I’ll continue to advocate to protect them.”
Alba’s current focus is on how the services that JKARE offers will work for patients who have developed pulmonary issues as a result of COVID-19. “Things have gotten even more challenging now with providing respiratory care because of the lack of benefits and coverage from some insurances,” she said.
Originally from the Republic of Colombia, Alba is a huge believer in the power of education. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration in her home country, and earned an MBA in healthcare management from the University of Phoenix. She completed a paralegal program at the University of Miami, and also earned a real estate license.
“When my son was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, I wanted to do something different than real estate—something that would benefit the cystic fibrosis community,” she said. “That’s when I changed my professional path and started learning new things so I could build a business with a purpose.”
Alba credits her membership in the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) for providing her with the information she needs to make her business a success.
“One day, I received something in the mail from ACHE, and I realized that I could learn a lot by joining,” she said. “ACHE has helped me with managing the business, as well as implementing new tools to be ready for changes in the industry.” She adds that her attendance at the ACHE Congress in Chicago in 2016 helped her restructure her business to weather those changes.
She also appreciates the networking opportunities that ACHE provides.
“The networking events have really helped us grow the company and become recognized in the community by healthcare professionals and referral sources,” she said of the company’s sponsorship of ACHE of South Florida. “People who you want to know about your company attend those events, so from the standpoint of a business owner, there are a lot of advantages.”
Alba adds that she is constantly impressed by the information she gleans through the organization.
“Every time I receive ACHE’s emails or magazines, I find something that I can apply to my business,” she said. “Whether you’re learning about how to improve patient care or increase patient satisfaction or how to run your organization in a different way to add revenue, there’s always something you can apply to your business and your life as a professional.”