Area Agency on Aging to start major renovation-expansion project that will also offer doctors and nurses
By JOHN MATUSZAK - H-P Staff Writer
Published: Tuesday, June 28, 2011 10:32 AM EDT
ST. JOSEPH - The Area Agency on Aging is ready to begin a major renovation and expansion project that will offer an adult day center [for persons needing nusing home level of care] and other medical help through doctors and nurses.
The transformed building will also create a "one-stop shop" for services for seniors and people with disabilities and a place where families can more easily obtain information on available help.
The agency expects to serve 15,000 clients a year in its renovated facility.
The renovated center will add 53 jobs and will generate an estimated $10 million in local revenue.
"Our mission is offering choices for an independent life," said Lynn Kellogg, chief executive officer of the Region IV Area Agency on Aging.
A groundbreaking will be held at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the headquarters at 2900 Lakeview Ave., in St. Joseph, kicking off the $3.5 million project slated to be completed by next May. The work is being funded through corporate and private donations.
The agency will turn what Christine Vanlandingham, fund and product development officer, described as a "6,000-square-foot closet" into a two-story space for the PACE adult day health center. PACE stands for Programs of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly.
The "closet" she referred to is actually a gymnasium the agency has been using mostly for storage since moving to the Lakeview location in 1995. The building, dating from the 1950s, had been a church and then a school for the developmentally disabled before the Agency on Aging bought it.
PACE is like receiving nursing home care without having to move into a nursing home, Kellogg and Vanlandingham explained. It is a Medicare/Medicaid program for seniors and people over 55 with disabilities.
People enrolled in PACE can spend part or all of a day at the center, receiving meals and taking part in social activities, then return home at night.
But more than just adult day care, PACE also will serve as a medical center, staffed by primary care physicians and nurses and providing prescription drug coverage, physical therapy, even eye and dental exams. Help with care in the home and long-term care also are part of PACE, and transportation is included.
A 2010 study by the agency found almost 1,400 low-income residents in St. Joseph and Benton Harbor who are in need of the kind of services provided through PACE.
Vanlandingham said PACE will serve up to 200 clients a year from Berrien, Van Buren and Cass counties. There are only four other PACE sites in Michigan, she said.
Helping seniors maintain their independence is important, the Kellogg and Vanlandingham pointed out. An AARP survey found that 96 percent of older adults want to stay in their homes and communities. Another study showed that PACE participants are admitted to hospitals and nursing homes less often than other seniors and stay healthier longer.
There is a lot of assistance available to families to make that desire for independence a reality, but people aren't always aware of the range of services.
"All too often people say 'If I'd only known about this then,'" Vanlandingham said. "People feel better when they know all the options."
Those options can range from once-a-month help at home changing ceiling light bulbs to 24-hour care, along with senior housing, assisted living and home-delivered meals.
The agency already has books, videos and other publications available. It will expand those resources and make the place more of a self-service center, with experts available to answer questions.
The information resource center now operates out of what could literally be referred to as a closet. More space will be made available by moving administrative offices.
"It will be even more public that it has been," Vanlandingham said.
Other senior services that are now scattered throughout the community will be brought under one roof.
Those include a senior volunteer program, employment training and SeniorNet, with seniors teaching seniors how to use technology.
Information will be available through four toll-free telephone lines and a direct 211 line to put families in touch with the resources they need.
The agency fields about 5,000 calls a year from residents seeking information, Kellogg said.
Disability Network of Southwest Michigan will provide services at this location, including support groups, Social Security benefits counseling, job counseling and independent living skills training.
Joel Cooper, president and CEO of Disability Network called the endeavor "a great collaboration between two organizations with similar missions" of educating and connecting people with resources, encouraging independent living and advocating for change in the way people with disabilities are treated.
Based in Kalamazoo, Disability Network of Southwest Michigan has been operating for 30 years and has expanded its services in Berrien and Cass counties over the last 18 months, Cooper said.
As well as making sense medically, providing safe, secure care for seniors makes economic sense for people juggling careers and family responsibilities.
A 2009 MetLife study found that U.S. employers lose $17.1 billion a year in productivity because employees involved in caring for elderly family members.
Information is available at www.areaagencyonaging.org and www.dnswm.org.