Adult day care is one of the services provided by Mountain Empire Older Citizens Inc. (Credit: David Grace)
Every year since 1963, May has been designated as Older Americans Month — a month set aside to appreciate and celebrate the vitality and aspirations of older adults and their contributions and achievements.
This year’s theme, “Unleash the Power of Age!” emphasizes the important role of older adults. Communities across the nation are recognizing older Americans as productive, active and influential members of society.
Kathy Whittaker, director of the First Tennessee Area Agency on Aging and Disability (FTAAAD), says, locally, one of the biggest needs of older Americans is more in-home support as well as more support for their family caregivers.
“All of us want to remain in our own home as long as we can. We get a lot of requests and calls about services available, both home- and community-based services to help individuals remain in their own homes as long as possible,” said Whittaker. “Primarily, our goal is to enable individuals to remain independent in their own homes as long as possible by providing those individuals with an array of support type programs.”
The role of the FTAAAD is to identify community and social service needs and to assure that they are available to people 60 years and older and to adults with disabilities in the communities where they live. The First Tennessee service area includes Carter, Greene, Hancock, Hawkins, Johnson, Sullivan, Unicoi, and Washington counties.
“People aren’t really aware of what we have to offer until they need a particular service or are looking for a particular service,” Whittaker said. “One of the main things we provide is information and assistance. We have a direct, dedicated phone number where people can call us to find out what services are available. Last year, we received over 14,000 calls. We will do a screening on the phone to determine which one of our programs we think the person might be eligible for and then we can refer them for services.”
Whittaker said one of the most needed services FTAAAD provides is the Family Caregiver Support Program, which provides support to family caregivers of any age providing care for an older family member.
“This program can really assist a family caregiver so that they’re able to leave the home to run errands or just get away for a little while, knowing there is someone there to look after their loved one while they’re gone,” she said. “This is a huge need in our community.”
FTAAAD offers congregate meals at noon, five days a week, at 16 meal sites within the eight-county area. Although no one is denied a meal for inability to pay, contributions are encouraged. This program also provides an opportunity for socialization. Home-delivered meals are also delivered five days a week by volunteers to frail older adults and other adults with disabilities who have been assessed by the service coordinators.
The Options for Community Living Program provides support services for older persons and other adults with disabilities who do not have services available to them from other programs. It is designed to assist individuals with functional limitations to remain independent at home through supportive in-home services, such as the home-delivered meals, personal care, homemaker services and minor home modifications.
FTAAAD also offers the Public Guardianship for the Elderly Program, designed to aid persons 60 years of age and older who are unable to manage their own affairs, and who have no one willing and able to act on their behalf. People are assigned to this program by the courts.
Whittaker said the FTAAAD also provides trained counselors who can offer insurance counseling and assistance to better understand Medicare, Medicaid and Supplemental Private Insurance and Prescription Assistance.
The FTAAAD also administers the CHOICES program. CHOICES is TennCare’s program for long-term care services and support for elderly or physically disabled individuals who need help with bathing, getting around their home, preparing meals or doing household chores. If program requirements are met, services can be provided in a nursing home or in the community. FTAAAD serves as the “single point of entry” to apply for CHOICES.
“CHOICES is a great alternative for people who are eligible both medically and financially to be in a nursing home. They can choose to receive their services in their own home,” Whittaker said.
Across the state line in Virginia, Mountain Empire Older Citizens Inc. is designated as the area agency on aging and public transit provider for Wise, Lee and Scott counties and the city of Norton. It offers many of the same services as FTAAAD.
Judy Miller, the agency’s director of care coordination, says, like FTAAAD, the focus and mission of MEOC is to keep older folks in their homes.
“We know that people want to be in their own homes. They don’t want to have to go live with a child. They don’t want to have to go to a nursing facility. They want to stay home, and that’s what our services are here for. We offer things like home-delivered meals. We offer homemaker services, which is just a few hours a week to help someone do things they are unable to do like make or change the bed, do some vacuuming, mopping, cleaning the kitchen, doing the laundry, doing some shopping,” Miller said. “We also have personal care, which is a service designed to help people who need hands-on help with things like bathing, dressing, feeding, walking or medication monitoring.”
Other services available through MEOC include adult day health care, Alzheimer’s support groups, chronic disease self-management, in-home respite, personal emergency response system, emergency fuel assistance and transportation services.
MEOC also offers a Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE). PACE is a health care plan that allows frail older people to live in their own homes and communities as long as possible. PACE offers a broad range of medical, social and day health services in home-based and community-based settings and affords hospital or nursing home care when needed.
Services are usually provided in the PACE Center, located in Big Stone Gap, and in the participant’s home, but, when needed, services are also provided in a hospital, nursing home or rehabilitation center.
“We were one of the very first rural PACEs in America,” said Miller. “It is a program that is paid for by Medicare and Medicaid. The person who enrolls in Pace has to have a screening and, once enrolled in PACE, they are pretty much getting everything they need in way of health and social services there, including specialty care and prescriptions.”
If you or someone you know is in need of any of these services, call the FTAAAD at (866) 836-6678 or MEOC at (800) 252-6363. You may also visit http://seniorconnectkpt.org/ which connects Kingsport-area senior citizens, their families and caregivers, and concerned community members with provider and resource information related to aging. SeniorConnectKpt.org is a joint effort of the United Way of Greater Kingsport and the FTAAAD.