With a little help, people can lead more independent lives

Dennis and his new Options for Long Term Care case manager Nancy Folsom review paperwork during a home visit. Enlarge photo

Photo courtesy of Jane Looney

Dennis and his new Options for Long Term Care case manager Nancy Folsom review paperwork during a home visit.

Independence. How do you define it?

To Dennis, it means living in his own home, cooking his own meals and feeling positive about where he is now.

But he remembers a time when this was far from his reality. A variety of problems led to declining health that landed him in the hospital. His case manager, Barbara Benson, was told by the admitting nurse that he was a 4.5. Benson asked, “What does that mean?’ “Five is dead,” replied the nurse.

Benson now directs the Options for Long Term Care program at San Juan Basin Health Department.

“We work with individuals and their families to assist them in staying in their own home and to live as healthy and independently as possible,” said Benson.

The program helps individuals, families and caregivers with evaluating options and establishing a comprehensive-care plan tailored to maximize independence while meeting the specific needs of individuals and using each person’s unique strengths, abilities and personal choices.

“Clients have to be willing to accept help,” Benson said.

For example, Dennis needed a wheelchair ramp to leave his home independently and yet still wanted to try to go up and down the steps. When he did decide it was time for a ramp, Benson arranged for one to be built.

“Dennis has made major life changes and fought hard during the last eight years to improve his health and independence,” Benson said. “He’s one of my favorite success stories.”

As an alternative to nursing home care, this program provides each client with a case manager who arranges transportation, coordinates care with personal-care providers and home health agencies when needed and makes referrals.

When case managers identify an unmet need, they do whatever they can to fill it – sometimes with little to no financial resources and almost always with lots of phone calls. These include anything from home modifications such as ramps and roll-in showers, to helping clients obtain resources for badly needed dental care.

Dennis was one of the recipients of a home modification after realizing he wasn’t able to navigate the two to three steps between his kitchen and living area without falling. Benson arranged for one portion of his home to be raised so that it was all level.

“When my life was a nightmare, this program at San Juan Basin Health turned it into a place where I could see light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Now, he’s to the point of doing his own home modification. He’s celebrating this Independence Day by extending his deck.

Depending on the client needs and level of family support, case managers check in at least quarterly with clients. They look for any changes in their client’s condition or unmet needs. With seven case managers, Options for Long Term Care currently serves 340 clients in Archuleta and La Plata counties. People need to qualify functionally and financially. Incomes can be up to $2,094, as this is a Medicaid waiver program.

For more information, call Benson at San Juan Basin Health at 335-2071.

Jane Looney is the communications director for the San Juan Basin Health Department.