Disability Case Manager Career Guide

What is Disability Case Management?

Disability case management is a specialization in the healthcare services industry that focuses on assessing disabled individuals for services in order to address physical and mental health needs. The process of case management is one that is undertaken in the context of a team, of which the disability case manager is but one part. Primary areas of focus for disability case management are facilitating communication between stakeholders, advocating on behalf of disabled clients, assessing and reviewing clients’ needs, and identifying appropriate interventions that promote a greater level of functioning for clients.

The philosophy underlying disability case management is that helping clients achieve their highest level of functioning is beneficial for everyone: the client, service providers, the healthcare and insurance systems, and society as a whole. By increasing clients’ level of functioning, autonomy, and capabilities, disability case management not only ensures the optimal level of independence for disabled individuals, it also ensures the timely application of services in a fiscally responsible manner.

What Does a Disability Case Manager Do?

Disability case managers are responsible for managing care services for disabled clients, usually in a healthcare setting such as a hospital, nursing home, or residential facility. Disability case managers work with clients to identify goals for improvement, which may focus on improved physical, mental, emotional, or vocational functioning, to name a few. An essential feature of a disability case manager’s job is to help disabled individuals get the services they need in order to achieve their goals, as well as provide assistance in procuring the services they need by acting on behalf of the disabled individual.

In order to provide the best services possible, disability case managers interview clients, review their health records, and speak with medical and mental health professionals in order to develop a picture of their client’s needs. Once a determination has been made as to the type and level of services required, disability case managers contact the appropriate care providers to initiate a program of care. For example, a developmentally disabled child might need specialized educational services, home health care services, and vocational services in order to attain the highest quality of life possible. Disability case managers are responsible for making that happen.

Once a client is receiving care, disability case managers are charged with continually reviewing the care received to ensure the level of care is appropriate. As changes occur in a client’s level of functioning, disability case managers adjust the care plan to better address the client’s needs. For example, if an elderly client injures her hip in a fall, the disability case manager would make a new assessment of the client’s needs and add physical therapy or more robust nursing assistance to address the client’s physical needs that result from the hip injury.

Some disability case managers work in an office environment, a clinic, or in clients’ homes. In these settings, there is more of an administrative focus to the duties of the case manager, as opposed to the hands-on approach often found in healthcare settings. In this context, the duties of a disability case manager may involve determining eligibility claims for services, reviewing and processing disability requests, and evaluating the progress of a client with respect to a specific service, such as physical therapy or mental health care.

Why Disability Case Managers are Important?

By reviewing and assessing disability with an aim to provide the most appropriate services to those who require it most, disability care managers perform an essential role in the lives of people who suffer from a disability. They act as a point of liaison and as the patient’s advocate to ensure their physical and mental needs are met by outside services. Case managers are involved in decision making about the most appropriate measures to positively impact upon the life of someone with a disability – steps towards patient independence and improvement of function are a key objective of the role.

They provide a unique service of specialist assessment of needs and, subsequently, directing funds where it’s most appropriate – helping people with disabilities increase their capabilities and independence. They can act as a point of contact for service providers to give detailed, professional insight into a client’s needs. Once services have been arranged, the case manager keeps a regular check on progress and will intervene and change these as the needs of their client adapt. This close involvement acts to provide confidence and empower their clients.

The role of a disability case manager is one that is designed to benefit all involved. Clients get appropriate interventions to support improvement of functioning and independence; support services can be efficiently directed towards those who’ll benefit from it most; and improved capabilities may also reduce the workload for health care teams.

What is the Career Outlook for Disability Case Manager?

The occupational outlook for disability case management is quite positive. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) expects the field of social and community case management to grow by 21 percent over the next few years. Likewise, the specialty area of disability case management is expected to grow in response to the aging population in the United States. As people age, the likelihood that they will need disability services increases. There is also a growing concern regarding the increase in chronic illnesses that Americans experience. This too will fuel the need for disability case managers in the near future.

How Much Does a Disability Case Manager Make?

According to the salary website PayScale, disability case managers earn an average annual salary of $48,040 per year, as of March 2015. The pay band for this occupation runs from around $31,000 per year up to $70,000 per year. While there are several factors that influence the salary one earns, including level of education, employment setting, and the area in which one lives, the years of experience on the job is the most highly influential factor. Workers that have less than five years of experience in disability case management earn approximately $43,000 per year, on average. However, workers with 10-20 years of experience on the job earn a much higher annual wages.

What are the Educational Requirements to Become a Disability Case Manager?

In order to become a disability case manager, a bachelor’s degree is required. However, the field in which one obtains a bachelor’s degree is not set in stone. Some disability case managers major in psychology or social work while others major in nursing or education. The type of degree needed will depend in large part on the setting in which one works. For example, disability case managers that work for a government agency, such as the Department of Family Services, may be best served by majoring in social work. However, a disability case manager that works in a hospital setting would likely benefit more from a degree in nursing.

Bachelor’s degree programs in the aforementioned fields are extremely popular and easily accessible at most colleges and universities. Online programs are also widely available, particularly in psychology, education, and social work. Undergraduate studies prepare students for entrance into disability case management by focusing on a wide variety of subject matter. Depending on the major, students might study human behavior, anatomy and physiology, or principles of learning. Coursework on case management, developmental disabilities, and elder care may also be required.

The type of degree obtained will influence the type of certifications and licensure that are required. For example, individuals that pursue a nursing degree must be licensed by the state in which they live in order to practice. Individuals with a degree in social work may also be required to have state licensure. However, workers with degrees in psychology or education may not necessarily need licensure, but may be required to obtain a certification of some kind, depending on the place of employment.

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