Janesville42.4°

New housing concept uses active seniors to care for frail seniors

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ROCHELLE B. BIRKELO
January 30, 2010
— Millie Thomas, 91, moved into her new digs Jan. 15.

The duplex tucked into an east side Janesville neighborhood is furnished with many of her personal belongings, including her longtime pet parakeet Bobby.


"I love it. It's very nice and cozy," Thomas said while visiting with guests at the kitchen table.


Before moving, Thomas lived for six years in a multi-level, multi-unit housing complex across town. Although she was content there, her loss of balance and mild dementia worried her family, who realized Thomas could no longer live alone.


At about the same time, Thomas and her daughter Theressa Roherty learned of Senior Services of Rock County's new community care homes. Located side-by-side at 3515 and 3517 Randolph Road, the homes opened the day Thomas moved in.


Senior Services of Rock County is a non-profit agency that matches community volunteers, workers and resources with people 60 and older who need help. The community care homes are a new venture for the organization.


The homes use active seniors to care for frail seniors around the clock seven days a week, said Sue McKillips, executive director of Senior Services.


The senior workers are from the Wisconsin Senior Employment program, which is coordinated through the Rock County Job Center, and from Senior Companions, which is a program of Senior Services of Rock County.


Senior Services also collaborates with county and state programs.


"We are working with the W-2 (Welfare to Work) program and can offer this home as a training vehicle for up to six months for young mothers interested in becoming a certified nursing assistant,'' McKillips said.


Affordable

The homes are low cost for residents who receive Supplemental Security Income and are part of Rock County's Long Term Support Programs.


"The client is responsible for much of the same costs—food, utilities, phone, cable, rent—they would incur if living in their own home. The county pays for the care and supervision portion for those who are functionally and financially eligible for their programs,'' McKillips said.


Thomas pays $519 of the $2,200 total monthly cost, making the community care homes less expensive than assisted living or a nursing home, McKillips said.


"It's a fraction of the cost to be here with individualized attention focused on the client, who is in the driver's seat," she said.


Thomas chooses to dress herself but prefers to have a senior companion help her bathe. She knows she can pitch in and help cook anytime, even though staff is responsible for meal preparation. Thomas enjoys visiting with her around-the-clock staff.


"I feel safe knowing they're here. They're good company, and I think it's good for me. I feel like I'm at home here," Thomas said.


The community care homes keep the elderly living in the community longer because they get help managing medication and eating nutritious meals, said Joan Kashew, coordinator of Senior Companions.


Senior Companions can help residents with grooming, reading, writing, walking, grocery shopping, trips to the doctor and light housekeeping, which is a relief for her family.


"She needed more care, so this was a wonderful alternative for her," Roherty said.


The helpers

Senior companions are 60 and older and receive a small tax-exempt stipend for the work plus mileage. But it's about more than money.


"It provides me physical, social, economic and emotional pluses," said Janice Schaefer, senior companion.


Marlo Wilson, a WISE Worker, agreed.


"I wanted something to work with my Social Security, and the WISE worker program allowed me to do that with a set number of hours. I'm still able to be active and contribute to society," she said.


Harold Luther, coordinator of the WISE program, said the collaboration between his agency and Senior Services of Rock County is a good fit because most WISE workers don't have caretaker experience.


"This is a great opportunity to increase the skills of my clients while assisting Senior Services clients," he said.


Skills learned can make the WISE workers more competitive in the job market, Luther said.


Eventually, Senior Services hopes to collaborate with the W-2 program to give young welfare recipients experience in the nursing field.


"It would be great experience for our participants," said Cindy Sutton, economic support division manager with Rock County Human Services.


Community care homes keep people in the community longer and save tax dollars, McKillips said.


"Millie is surrounded by people who care about her and is in control of her life. Through this home, she's been given a lot of extra years in the community," she said.


Roherty agreed: "It's peace of mind knowing she's being watched over 24 hours a day and safe."


To learn more


Three openings remain in the Senior Services of Rock County community care homes. For details, contact Sue McKillips, executive director, at (608) 757-5940 Ext. 5.



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