Tahlequah Daily Press

November 23, 2012

Capacity for caring

By ROB W. ANDERSON
Staff Writer

TAHLEQUAH — By ROB W. ANDERSON

Press Staff Writer

As the number of elderly or frail Americans continues to grow, so does the need for their care and support.

November is National Home Care and Hospice Month, and each year the month is set aside to honor and celebrate not only the aging family members who receive care, but the health care administrators, nurses, clinicians, therapists, aides, chaplains, chore workers and companions who improve the lives of clients and their families.

According to members of the industry, there’s an increased demand on health care providers as more people seek to receive care at home or in an assisted environment. Many families are looking to establish services for a loved one who may be living alone and is no longer self-sufficient.  

Heritage Place Assisted Living, 1380 N Heritage Lane, has been serving Tahlequah for 15 years and is “one of the largest assisted living companies in the United States” that presents a family-oriented environment for residents, said  Executive Director Leslie Stone.

“Our residents vary. They can range from seniors who are looking for more of a social type of environment. They’ve been living at home alone and need that social aspect of their life or people sometimes don’t want the responsibility of the household chores or the upkeep and having to worry about mowing the lawn and those sorts of things,” she said. “Residents might also need assistance with their activities of daily living, such as bathing, dressing and other basic needs. One of our main needs we meet is medication management. They need assistance with their medication in that they’re not taking their medication properly at home.”

Stone said Heritage Place offers apartment-style living in a campus setting, and residents are encouraged to furnish the apartment with items from home to establish a familiar environment.

“The doors lock just like they would at home, so [residents] have a sense of safety and security. They’re just able to live here and have new friends,” Stone said. “We have a wide range of activities, and our activities program is designed to be meaningful and purposeful for residents. We do everything from arts and crafts to painting. We do outings in the community.”

Stone wants family members to understand their relatives won’t be isolated.

“Just because they’ve moved into assisted living, that does not disconnect them from the community in general. We take them out and let them be involved in community activity because that’s very important for them. We take them to vote. They still get to exercise those basic rights,” she said.

At first, Magdalene Timmons was reluctant to accept the idea of moving into an assisted living environment when her son and daughter approached her about it. But when Timmons’ car was stolen from her rural home, she agreed with her children.

“When I came here, I didn’t really want to come. I had a really nice home and acreage, but one night I was spending the night with my daughter here in town, and when she drove me home, my car wasn’t in the carport. I thought my son had taken it to be serviced, but that wasn’t the case. Someone had stolen my car,” Timmons recalled. “That’s when my children wanted me to move here.”

Timmons would still rather be home, but the break-in was a wake-up call.

“Life moves on and nothings stays the same, but I’ve made good friends here,” she said. “I’m happy here, and I’m a member of the First Baptist Church, and that’s nearby. If I don’t have a ride, the church will pick me up.”

Cherokee Elder Care  is the only PACE entity in Oklahoma, and the first PACE –  Programs of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly – sponsored by a Native American tribe. It’s also one of the first rural PACE sites in the country. The goal of the program is to keep people independent in their homes as long as it can be safely done, said activities Director Tina Roach.

“We’re an all-inclusive health care organization. We have a fully-licensed staff with three primary-care physicians, and we also offer adult day health care,” Roach said. “Once someone enters our program, we have a three-day assessment plus a home assessment. We’ll set up a life plan that will best suit our client.”

Cherokee Elder Care contracts with home health companies to provide personal care assistance in the home.

“We have physical and occupational therapy in-house, and we have one meal here – the noon meal, and it’s catered from Go Ye Village,” said Roach. “After the first of the year, we’re going to try to start offering breakfast and lunch here.”

Roach said clients decide the number of and particular days of the week to make their visit to the 1387 W. Fourth St. location.

“They choose what works best for them. Some come two days; some come three days. Basically it’s just what the need is,” she said. “We maintain home health services, as well as transition them into assisted living or a nursing home if needed. We have some who are in a nursing home, and we maintain services with that client as long as [he or she was] in our program prior to entering assisted living or a nursing home care. That’s one of the advantages of getting into the PACE program. We also contract with two hospice companies: Hospice of the Cherokee and Rivercross Hospice.”

Roach said Cherokee Elder Care currently has 120 clients and anticipates the arrival of four more in December.

“We’re working on January assessments,” she said. “A lot of people have said [they really appreciate the consistency of care we offer]. They’re always going to see a familiar face, with that socialization and continuity of care.”

Individuals need not be of Native American descent to enroll in the Cherokee Elder Care PACE program or become a client of Hospice of the Cherokee, which provides a family-centered and family-directed service level of care for those at a critical juncture.

The establishment of service depends on the client’s prognosis, and whether any curative treatments are sought, said patient care Coordinator April Moore. She noted many people perceive hospice care as preparation for life’s final transition.

 “A lot of people think if you go into hospice care, it’s because you’re dying – which you are, but it’s different than just [preparing for that outcome],” she said. “There’s definitely more family involvement than there is in home health or something different. It’s more family- and patient-centered than it is a [situation where you] have to do what the doctor says you have to do. It just really depends on their diagnosis.”

Nursing staff will make weekly visits, and 24-hour on-call service is also available, said licensed practical nurse Lea Sheets.

“We have social workers, a chaplain, and we consult with our doctors every week. We have access to [Hospice of the Cherokee] Dr. [Owen] Gilmore at all hours,” she said. “We have our dietitian we consult with. Hospice [care] is more family-oriented because we’re not only there for the patient, we’re there for the whole family in their time of need. We don’t know when our last breath will be. Today could be all of our last breaths, so we put it into God’s hands.”

Gilmore said Hospice of the Cherokee has served people who have eventually recovered and were able to extend their lives.

“It’s a guess that, ‘OK they’re likely to die in six months,’ and some come along say, ‘No, this is not what I want. I want active treatment, therapy or whatever’, and they do that,” Gilmore said. “It’s hard to give a percentage [for how many recover and go on with their lives]. Sometimes it’s just a matter of getting them out of pain. They start eating again and start feeling better. We have them actually go on and have an active life.”