[The following guest column was written by By Shaun T. Smith, President & CEO, Albright Care Services]
A population that stands out during these times of healthcare crisis is seniors, especially those who have many medical needs and have trouble managing their care. Sadly, seniors tend to have the most healthcare needs but are the least positioned to manage them. If they no longer drive, how will they get to medical appointments? If they have trouble seeing, how will they take the right pills? If their memory isn’t so good, will they remember when to take their medicine? If they fall a lot, do they have the right equipment at home to keep them safer? Are they doing an exercise program that helps them stay strong? Unfortunately, when seniors are not able to fully manage their own care, their health declines at a faster rate, creating additional needs on top of the ones they are already having trouble managing. As a result, they go to the emergency room more. They fall more, leading to surgeries and/or hospital and nursing home stays. They don’t always see their doctors when they should, and new health issues lay dormant and old issues are not followed up on.
Pennsylvanians are fortunate to live in a state that funds an innovative program for seniors that addresses their increasing healthcare needs while helping them continue to live at home. LIFE. Living Independently For Elders. LIFE programs are based upon the PACE (Program of All Inclusive Care for the Elderly) care model, which began in California in the early 1970’s to help seniors continue to live independently in the community while receiving help with their social, medical, emotional, spiritual and nutritional needs. 40 years later, there are now more than 156 PACE programs in 30 states.
Williamsport is home to one of these programs—Albright LIFE, located at 901 Memorial Avenue. Albright LIFE offers a wellness model that focuses on preventative measures, education and close monitoring of chronic conditions that helps seniors 60 and older continue to live in their own home. Since opening in June 2008, Albright LIFE has cared for more than 90 seniors with advanced medical needs who would have otherwise needed to go to a nursing home to receive integrated care. The PACE model of care enables Albright LIFE to oversee every aspect of a participant’s medical care, ensuring that participants are: seen by the program’s medical director, Dr. William Keenan, as often as they need to, transported to specialty medical appointments, receiving regular physical and occupational therapy at LIFE’s Adult Day Health Center, taking their medicine, and are able to call one of the LIFE program’s nurses 24/7/365 if they have a question or concern. This care approach enables LIFE staff to recognize health issues sooner--before things become critical--which delays or altogether prevents nursing home placement.
By providing this wellness model of comprehensive support and services, LIFE saves tax dollars. If the LIFE participants had chosen to go to a skilled nursing facility rather than enroll in the LIFE program, the state would have had to pay an additional $1.5 million for care to these Lycoming and Clinton County seniors. By focusing on education and prevention, LIFE saves tax dollars. Why not prevent a health scare, provide a better quality of life for seniors and be fiscally responsible at the same time? It’s a model where everyone wins.