Getting better with age


cover_harriette_photoInnovative care options available for older adults in CNY

By Katherine Long
Sun associate editor

Harriette Koberline has never been much for associations.

“I’m very independent,” she says firmly.

That independent streak has propelled Harriette through 93 years of adventures and accomplishments. In college, she once hitchhiked from her school in east Michigan to Buffalo. As a young bride, she and her husband bought a 17-room house on Comstock Avenue in Syracuse (a steal at $3,750) and, along with her mother, let out rooms to students. She was the personnel director at Flah’s department store downtown and corporate secretary of the Syracuse Better Business Bureau. In her early 70s, she decided it was time for her to “do something more,” so she joined the Peace Corps and spent two years teaching English in the Dominican Republic.

“I never let age make a difference,” she said.

Harriette lets very little get in her way or get her down. But last year, a nasty bout of pneumonia landed her in the hospital. It got her grandniece Nancy Cushing thinking that maybe Harriette shouldn’t be living on her own anymore.

“We assumed it was either independent living or a nursing home,” she recalled. Neither option seemed a good fit, especially for Harriette, who was determined to stay in her home.

Luckily, a social worker at the hospital suggested Harriette and Nancy look into the PACE program.

PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) CNY, opened in 1997, is a program of Loretto in cooperation with St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center. PACE CNY is a managed long term care program that  provides or coordinates all medical and personal care services for older adults living in Onondaga County who would otherwise need nursing home care. It is one of only 75 PACE programs in the nation (as of 2010); similar PACE programs are in place in Rochester, Buffalo, Schenectady, Olean, Amherst and New York City. PACE aims to assist elders, in partnership with their caregivers and families, to stay in their homes as independent members of their communities for as long as possible. PACE takes care of arranging and paying for their physical and mental health needs, including in- and out-of-home therapies, hospitalization, meals, medicines, body and home care, and door-to-door transportation to medical appointments and PACE day programs as needed. The program also provides for nursing home placement should the participant require it. PACE CNY director of marketing and intake Ginny Turley calls it “one-stop shopping for healthcare.”

Harriette enrolled in the PACE program last November. After some initial skepticism, she now loves it. She’s able to spend most of her days at home, painting, reading and enjoying time by herself. Twice a week, she spends the day at a PACE day program, participating in the diverse activities offered. She’s been making a purse in the crafts program and recently spent the day at the Fair. A trip to the PACE day program at the Loretto Brighton Campus in Syracuse found Harriette and her peers catching up on the news of the day with therapeutic recreation specialist Patricia “Pepper” Hess. Harriette was greeted by name by friends and staff, getting a hug from one aide and a cheerful wave from her regular bus driver.

“It’s been great for her socialization,” Cushing said. “And it takes the worry off. I know she has aides checking in on her at her apartment, aides at the day center, and they’ll call me if they have concerns. I wish we’d known about [PACE] sooner.”

That kind of security is important for elders who don’t have family to advocate for him or her, and who aren’t as healthy as Harriette.

“Many elders [who come to the PACE program] are isolated, depressed, lonely, worried about losing their independence,” Turley said. “When they start coming to the center [for PACE day programs], they’re completely different. They have activities. They have security. They’re more independent, happier. They stay healthier longer.”

Sally Berry, Loretto’s interim president and CEO, says programs like PACE are the wave of the future for eldercare. Across New York State and the U.S., the focus is on developing programs that coordinate care, contain costs and provide the most care in the least restrictive way. Healthcare is shifting away from task-oriented, reactive care and “moving toward a model of proactive, preventive, person-centered care,” she said.

This shift will be important in the coming years. America is growing older – and fast. The first “baby boomers,” the children who were born after World War II and who make up one of the largest generations ever born in the U.S., are starting to turn 65. Over the next 40 years, the U.S. Census Bureau expects to see “rapid growth” in the population of Americans aged 65 and older: The bureau estimates there will be 88.5 million of these older adults by 2050 – more than double the current population of 40.3 million. Traditional nursing homes alone will not be able to meet the needs of the entire population as they age, so programs like PACE, which aim to prevent decline and promote health, will be critical. Loretto is committed to home-and community-based care, and plans to keep expanding the PACE program.

As for Harriette, she plans to stick with her PACE schedule “as long as I can navigate,” she said. She’s happy with the program and with the freedom it gives her to live the life she wants.

“That’s the greatest gift,” she said. “A happy heart.”

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