Aging on Orcas: A stone soup approach

  • Wed Jul 31st, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

by Tom Eversole

Orcas Senior Center

The key to aging in place on Orcas may be a “stone soup” approach. That is, everybody brings a piece of the solution.

At some point and to varying degrees most elders need both in-home health (medical) services and assistance with home care (self-care and daily living activities). They may access that via paid professionals, family, friends or volunteers. More technical health needs surely require trained professionals.

Home health agencies, home care agencies and independent providers have not been able to consistently meet the needs of all island elders, especially those with limited incomes and supports. Volunteer visiting companions may have been more available in the past, but today their numbers are inadequate to meet the social needs of a growing elder population.

A successful home health agency is a critical part of the solution. A home care agency with capacity to serve all islanders, including Medicaid beneficiaries, is another. If the home care agency were a nonprofit, collaboration between the two could make serving everyone possible, especially if philanthropic and public funds were applied to the solution. We would need a robust workforce of local residents, which translates into local jobs, career and economic development. Starting next year, half of Orcas Island residents will be seniors, and that market is growing.

However, home health and home care are only two factors elders need to age well and safely at home. Seniors need reliable access to transportation, affordable housing, home maintenance and repair. Those enterprises also lend themselves to public-private partnerships for solution.

We need bold, innovative approaches and leadership for this inevitable challenge.

On Tuesday, July 16, Nancy Howk, who is a registered nurse with a bachelor’s of science in nursing degree and director of Clinical Services for Alpha Home Health, outlined in-home health services now offered on Orcas Island to a group of 25 interested seniors. She also introduced employee Robin Pilatti, registered nurse, who serves Orcas.

Available services include disease-specific care and teaching, medication management and wound care as well as physical, occupational and speech therapy. To qualify, leaving the home should present considerable risk or hardship. No prior hospitalization is needed, and referrals may be made by your primary care provider.

Alpha Home Health is the only state-licensed Medicare certified Home Health Agency serving the San Juan Islands. The company accepts payment through Medicare, Medicare Advantage, Medicaid and several private insurance companies.

In order to increase access, the company is currently recruiting islanders who are registered and licensed practical nurses; physical, occupational and speech therapists; as well as qualified aids to these positions. A part-time social worker is also under recruitment.

To access in-home health care or inquire about employment, contact Howk at 425-357-1790.