Growing up in Montana and Idaho, Dr. Kara Kuntz witnessed what it was like to see her great aunts and uncles suffer and ultimately succumb to multiple chronic illnesses. “My grandmother was one of 12 children raised by Croatian immigrants and I watched them face death with different degrees of grace and dignity.” The experience is part of what drew her into the fields of geriatrics, palliative, and hospice care.
After finishing residency at Family Medicine Residency of Idaho (FMRI), Dr. Kuntz became the first fellow in the newly established geriatrics fellowship program there. Part of her training was in Idaho, but she also spent time in North Carolina where she rotated through the inspirational Memory Care Clinic. It underscored the importance of giving dementia patients purpose during their day, supporting and educating caregivers, and avoiding dangerous and excessive medications.
Upon finishing as a fellow, she helped build a brand-new department at Saint Alphonsus Health System: the Enhancing Care Initiative. Functioning as part of the hospital’s Accountable Care Organization, part of their mission is to help improve quality and decrease cost of care for terminally ill and geriatric patients. These are medically and socially complex patients and benefit from a multidisciplinary team’s care: a social worker, clinical pharmacist, nurse practitioners, physicians, and a chaplain.
“I feel very fortunate to have extended visits with these patients – some visits being in-home - where we can focus on their health goals and quality of life,” says Dr. Kuntz. More than half of their work is caring for patients with dementia and she admits that we do not currently have great medications to treat the disease. Until we do, she says, “we must focus on what does effectively improve quality of life and outcomes. The two most effective interventions right now are de-prescribing medicines that worsen cognition and providing caregiver support and education.
Right behind her zeal for caring for our elders, teaching those behind her remains a high priority too. Reflecting the nature of her interdependent team, multiple learners rotate through her clinic including medical residents, nurse practitioner students, pharmacy residents, social work interns and the geriatrics fellow. She remains with FMRI as part-time faculty for the geriatrics fellowship. “There are simply not enough people pursing the field of geriatrics and therefore when someone shows interest, I will do all I can to share the joy and caring for older adults.”
Dr. Kuntz names several organizations working on these issues, such as the Idaho Caregivers Alliance and the Alzheimer’s Association. She says her personal mission is for her department to contribute to making make Boise a more dementia-friendly community, especially with the increasing number of retirees moving into the area. To this end, she helped the local AARP develop a Caregiver Guidebook.
She has been active in ACMS both as a resident representative during her training and during that time helped launch the Residents Welcome Dinner. More recently she has served as the chair of the historic Winter Clinics CME conference. In her off-time you will see her skiing, hiking, backpacking, mountain biking, yoga, and pretty much anything involving the outdoors. With an 18-month old daughter in tow, she and her husband continue to venture out as a family and together with him spends time advocating for the protection of public lands.
You can read more about the Saint Alphonsus House Calls program with Dr. Kuntz featured in the Idaho Statesman here: https://www.idahostatesman.com/news/business/article144754264.html