Safe at Home: Helping seniors remain independent

Published: Jul. 6, 2017 at 11:43 AM EDT
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It's one of the toughest decisions adult children have to make: Is it safe for mom and dad to still live at home?

My brothers and I had to make that decision a few years back, before our mom died.

Like many of you, we kept her in our childhood home for as long as we safely could, but then came the time where we had to talk to her about assisted living, which I might add, she loved.

But now there's a program right here in Michiana that might have given my mom some extra time at home, and it might help you too if you are struggling with the same, painful decision.

The program is called PACE, which stands for Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. Its primary goal? To keep our loved ones in their homes safely, for as long as possible.

If home is where the heart is, then Edie Brummett's heart is full. "Living on my own is something I enjoy," she says.

The Plymouth woman remains independent even though six months ago she almost had to leave her cozy apartment for a place she didn't want to even think about. She imagined she would end up “probably in a nursing home.”

Edie suffers from COPD, a progressive lung disease that literally takes her breath away. It threatened her independence, and she frequently ended up in the emergency room. “I was going six, seven times or maybe even more a month.”

Edie needed help in order to stay home, and then her doctor told her about PACE.

Pace is a national program brought to Michiana in September by Saint Joseph Health Systems.

Nursing director Jenifer Coffman explains how it works. “I think the best way to sum that up is helping seniors live safely at home. They need help with things at home.”

Medical director Dr. Chris Quinn explains it is not adult day care and it is not a one-size-fits-all program. “Before they even become a member, people go into their house, social workers and nurses go into their house and they interview them. What type of support they have, whether people are tired or burned out as caregivers, and then they present it to the care team. This is the way all medicine should be practiced.”

A care team at PACE is made up of doctors, nurses, an activities director, therapists and a chaplain who decide the best approach for giving people what they need to remain safe in their homes.

Coffman explains what that meant for Edie. “We found the things that trigger her and we worked on them and then developed a plan, and now she doesn't need to go to the emergency room.”

So twice a week the St. Joseph PACE van drives to Edie's home in Plymouth to bring her to the center in Mishawaka.

Edie joins other PACE members for a hearty breakfast, and by mid-morning she has met with her rehab team to exercise. There's also a full clinic on-hand in the event Edie needs a breathing treatment.

One of her favorite therapies is joining her friend Norma, who also has COPD, for tips on cooking safely at home and meeting with a dietician who helps them understand labels.

The care team executes a separate plan to help each member, whether they have diabetes, high blood pressure or another illness.

And just like the initial in-home visit, PACE does not stop there. Coffman explains that they can even get help in the home. “Taking a bath, a little cooking, different things that they just can't do by themselves anymore, and those are things that might cause them to be admitted to a nursing home.”

Coffman explains that PACE can even help worn-out caregivers, usually daughters and sons, who may be trying to take care of mom or dad while they work and raise their own families. “A lot of the responsibilities that they have now. Helping them with some of the financial things they have to deal with, transportation to and from doctor's appointments, prescriptions, just being able to get prescriptions on a timely basis.”

That's been a big help to Edie who, like many seniors, would forget to take her medicines, but not now that she has her high-tech pill box. “Over here is what’s called a pill minder box. They come down every Wednesday and fill it for me and it's set to go off at 7 in the morning and 8 in the evening.”

While Edie comes to PACE twice a week, others come Monday through Friday, depending on their needs.

It's gratifying for all involved. Families know their loved ones are safe and all their health needs are being met, and the care team believes PACE is a major step in how we treat our loved ones who want to remain independent.

Coffman says she loves her job. “I've been an ICU nurse, sending people home knowing I am not going to be there with them to take their medications every day. I now get to be that nurse.”

Dr. Quinn says PACE has led to better overall health for its members, “We communicate with specialists, we help direct the care in a much better way than can be done outside of PACE. So really this model should be what all of healthcare is.”

And you'll get no argument from Edie, who is thankful she can stay home where her heart is. “It's nice to be able to live in an apartment like this, where you can have your own things that surround you, like your children and grandchildren’s pictures. And they can come and see you whenever they want, and I can come and go as I want. A great impact on my life.”

The program gives Edie, and others like her, the help they need to maintain some control over their lives, living with dignity and doing it safely.

PACE is a Monday through Friday program, if needed, and cost is free to those who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid and are 55 or older in St. Joseph County and parts of Elkhart and Marshall counties.

For those who do not qualify, there are private pay options.

Saint Joseph PACE

250 East Day Road

Mishawaka, IN

(574) 247-8700

PACE of Southwest Michigan

2900 Lakeview Ave. • St. Joseph, MI 49085

(269) 408-4322