Center delivers care and independence at the same time
By Rob Kalesse
Special to Delaware Business Times
As the world population climbs past 7.4 billion people and life expectancy eclipses 71 years, the same statistics continue to rise here at home. According to the Delaware Population Consortium, the First State’s elderly population (ages 60 and older) is projected to grow between 8 percent and 12 percent through 2020.
Members of the baby boomer generation, who have now reached retirement age, currently face the oncoming challenges of elderly life. Independence, quality of life, and medical and financial peace of mind become top priorities. Meanwhile, the last thing grandparents and elderly aunts and uncles want is to become a burden on the state or their younger family members.
While many senior citizens might scoff at the idea of entering a nursing home, the St. Francis Living Independently for Elders (LIFE) center on the Wilmington Riverfront offers an interesting alternative. It is here that the needs of the elderly, like primary care, immunization, socialization and even transportation, are provided on a regular basis. At the end of each day, however, members return to their own homes.
Amy Milligan, executive director at St. Francis LIFE, says the center acts as a one-stop shop for the elderly, allowing them to maintain the normalcy of living in the homes they have likely owned all their adult lives and raised families in, while getting the help and care they typically cannot provide for themselves.
“For us, it’s all about quality of life for our members; we provide an environment that allows the elderly to enjoy the last phase of their lives in the best way possible,” said Milligan. “Whether it’s getting them to appointments, providing in-home care in the way of visiting nurses, or creating events to keep them active, we offer a nursing home level of care while allowing our members to still live independently.”
St. Francis LIFE operates from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, and works as a senior center where members arrive with their day, diet and activities planned almost to the last detail. All members are 55 and older, have met certain health and financial requirements assessed during the enrollment phase, and are either approved for Medicaid or Medicare, or pay out-of-pocket for the care.
Maria Miller, manager of enrollment and outreach, says the enrollment process begins with an assessment by the health-care staff at St. Francis LIFE, as well as assistance with Medicaid. Each member’s schedule — whether they come to the center three days or five days a week — is carefully organized.
“We go to their homes and they come and visit with us, so that we can be certain they are a good fit for the LIFE center,” said Miller. “Our assessment includes a visit with our occupational therapist, physical therapist, and nurses and practitioners, so that we can design a program that provides them the proper daily routine.”
St. Francis LIFE currently has 180 members, although Miller says they expect to grow to a maximum of 250 in the next year or two. As part of St. Francis Healthcare, the center falls under the umbrella of Trinity Health, the second-largest provider of health care in the country. Through Trinity, St. Francis LIFE is a National Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) Association, which connects leaders dedicated to providing innovative care for frail, older adults.
Ciro Poppiti, register of wills for New Castle County, was a member of the first board of directors at St. Francis LIFE, when they opened their doors to the first participant in February 2013. As someone who acts as an “ombudsman for the elderly of Delaware,” Poppiti saw incredible potential in what the LIFE center had to offer.
“More than 360 people turn 60 in this state each month, including those that currently live here and those moving to Delaware’s beach towns for retirement,” said Poppiti. “So the cost of aging is two-fold: not only are many of these folks paid for by the state, but additional stress is put on seniors and their caregivers. St. Francis LIFE reduces the cost of aging across the board.”
Poppiti, who is currently running for lieutenant governor of Delaware, says St. Francis LIFE provides the model for caring for the elderly, in that it offers a place for them to live dignified lives through social interaction, while allowing for independence at home. The genius of picking up and returning the elderly to their homes, Poppiti said, cannot be understated.
Jean Evans, a Wilmington resident who works from home as a property manager, is one of the many caregivers to benefit from St. Francis LIFE. Evans’s mother, Anna Allen, has been a member at the LIFE center for six months, and it has given Evans peace of mind in her work and the level of her mother’s care.
“Mama is still quite mobile and in relatively good health, but she needs medically supervised exercise and has specific dietary needs after losing 40 percent of her stomach to surgery,” said Evans. “I take her in the mornings, but the bus brings her home, and it allows me to take care of my responsibilities during the day, without feeling guilty.”
Like most Delaware residents with elderly parents, Evans was concerned about how she would take care of her mother’s health and well-being once the time came. But the LIFE center has put those concerns at ease. Even occasional trips to the hospital, Evans says, have become easier.
“More than once I’ve called the nurses for in-home care and it’s worked out beautifully, because we were able to avoid going to the hospital altogether,” said Evans. “But in the cases where a visit to the hospital couldn’t be avoided, the folks at the LIFE center got Mama through the ER at St. Francis Hospital in less than 30 minutes, and, once she was in a room, I didn’t have to wait to get answers on how she was doing and what she needed.”
Miller and Milligan both said that St. Francis LIFE would continue to accept applicants up to its maximum occupancy of 250 members. Once full, the plan is to open a second LIFE center, perhaps in Newark or Middletown, though they could not comment specifically in terms of a timetable or location.