SP health system to offer new elder care programs
Story and photos by Julie Beaulieu
WEST SPRINGFIELD – As people are living longer, the need for elder care continues to grow in western Massachusetts.
The Sisters of Providence Health Care System is expanding its services to meet these needs with some new programs called Mercy LIFE (Living Independent For Elders) and Mercy Companions, which are designed to keep seniors in their home environment. The programs will begin March 1 and are housed on the former Brightside campus in West Springfield.
Various forms of insurance will be accepted for those in the program, including Medicare and Medicaid, according to Chris McLaughlin, chief operating officer of the Mercy Continuing Care Network.
“On the campus now, we are fortunate enough to have Mercy LIFE, our PACE program (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly). We also have Mercy Home Care, Mercy Hospice, and our newest ministry, Mercy Companions, which is a private duty provider of support services,” said McLaughlin.
McLaughlin listed some duties that could be done by Mercy Companions.
“They actually may help with dressing. They may help with bathing, and other activities of daily living,” he said. “We've had a few people call and say, ‘I'd like to go visit a friend. I’d like to go to church. I'd like to go shopping. It's difficult for me to go out. Do you have somebody that could assist me and accompany me with that?’ and, of course, we do.” The program will employ two types of “companions,” certified and noncertified.
Joe Larkin, executive director, Mercy Family Life, offered some background facts about the PACE program.
“The first PACE program in the country was in San Francisco (in the 1970s) and it was a group of people who wanted to keep their own parents, their own seniors, at home. And, they realized that there are a lot of little gaps that needed to be filled in order to do that. So, they started a program called ‘Unlock’ and that operated many years as the only organization of this kind in the country,” said Larkin. Eventually, he said, “The government got interested in the program because they found it was saving a lot of money. It was preventing a lot of hospitalizations, which are very expensive … and programs started sprouting up around the country. The second program in the country was in East Boston.”
Dr. Rachel Broudy, medical director of Mercy Family Life, said a PACE program can prevent emergency room visits.
“I think, historically, medicine happened in the clinic or in the hospital when you’re sick, and the doctors take care of that sickness, but they don’t look at your health, which is what happens outside of the clinic. It happens at home. It happens in your community. It happens in your daily life.”
“I used to be a medical director of another program in Boston. A doctor I knew told a story of a woman that he used to see in the hospital every couple of weeks. She was very frail and had a very bad disease. She would come in with a flare-up of her disease every couple of weeks, and then she disappeared for a couple of years, and all the hospital staff thought that she had passed, but it turns out that she was in PACE.”
“And what PACE did was build a relationship with her, and, eventually, over time, she let us in.”
Dr. Broudy explained what the new PACE will have to offer with Mercy LIFE. “Our interdisciplinary team, I think, is the keystone of our program,” she said. “I don't think anywhere else in health care do you see an entire team, from doctor, to nurse, to rehab, dietician, home health-aid, social worker – all sitting around the table together every day talking about patients.
“And, I think what it brings is an intimacy with our participants so that we really know them. We really understand them,” Dr. Broudy said.
Larkin noted that having all of the services housed under one roof definitely improves overall care.
Mercy LIFE has an adult day health program Monday through Friday, with its own transportation system. In addition, in the same building, there is also physical therapy and occupational therapy, personal care, hair dressing, laundry, a medical clinic and "quiet rooms," which are a place where people can lay down and rest when not feeling well, just like being at home, only safer than being home alone, said Larkin.
Larkin said a typical day for clients, who would arrive by van transportation, might include a continental breakfast, discussion groups, exercise classes, a noon meal and an afternoon snack, as well as clinic visits and therapies, if needed. Clients would also receive hygiene care or help with personal laundry, if desired.
To qualify for the program, clients should meet these four requirements: 1) be age 55 or over, 2) live in Hampden or Hampshire County, 3) need help with at least two activities of daily living and 4) be safe to remain living in the community.
Applications are currently being accepted. 1. For more information on Mercy Companions call 413-827-4295 or log on to www.mercycares.com. For more information on the PACE program, Mercy LIFE, call 413-748-7223 or visit www.mymercylife.com.