VA pro­gram helps veter­ans age in their homes with care

Al­ter­na­tive to nurs­ing homes

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By JANE BELLMYER

jbellmyer@ce­cil­whig.com

— For a small num­ber of Ce­cil County veter­ans, there is a way to age in place and have con­trol of the sit­u­a­tion.

Veteran Di­rected Care gives for­mer ser­vice mem­bers a pool of funds each month to pay for in-home health care, which keeps them out of more ex­pen­sive nurs­ing homes.

The Veter­ans Af­fairs Maryland Health Care Sys­tem works with the Ce­cil County Of­fice on Aging and Dis­abil­ity Ser­vices to ad­min­is­ter the pro­gram for five clients.

“We’re at ca­pac­ity for now,” said Linda Wil­lis, Aging and Dis­abil­i­ties Ser­vices chief.

The pro­gram be­gan here once the county signed on and agreed to helped with its ad­min­is­tra­tion. While VDC started in other states in 2009, it ar­rived in Maryland in 2012. To date, there are only 45 avail­able slots across the state, five of which are for Ce­cil County veter­ans.

Crys­tal Tay­lor, lead so­cial worker in Ge­ri­atrics and Ex­tended Care at Perry Point, said there is hope that could be ex­panded though.

“We’re al­ways hop­ing we can add slots,” she said.

Winifred Frank, a U.S. Navy veteran, was the first to en­roll in the Ce­cil County pro­gram. With her monthly

PERRY POINT

al­lot­ment, the Port De­posit woman pays for an in-home aide for four hours each day.

“She had been in a pro­gram be­fore where the VA pro­vided 10 hours of care per week,” her friend Dee Em­s­ley said.

Now, the aide makes sure Frank has meals, med­i­ca­tion, clean clothes and bed­ding and other care.

“Get­ting into this pro­gram was a god­send,” Em­s­ley said.

Frank, 76, is pleased to stay in her own bed­room.

“I don’t want to be in a nurs­ing home,” Frank said, cud­dling with her dog Happy.

Through VDC, veter­ans like Frank re­ceive as much as $3,000 each month. Act­ing as an em­ployer, the veteran hires aides and can also pay for other equip­ment that helps him or her age in place. Part of Frank’s al­lot­ment pays for one of those med­i­cal emer­gency alert sys­tems.

Tay­lor pointed out that it rep­re­sents a huge sav­ings over the cost of nurs­ing home care.

“If you have a veteran pay­ing for their care in this pro­gram, they may spend $2,800 to $3,000 per month. De­pend­ing on needs, nurs­ing home care can run $7,000 to $20,000,” Tay­lor said.

A rep­re­sen­ta­tive helps the vet as­sure those bills are paid, in­clud­ing pay­roll for the aides.

“They work with a fis­cal me­di­a­tor to pay their staff in a timely fash­ion,” Tay­lor said.

Erin Bird, home and com­mu­nity based ser­vices su­per­vi­sor for the county, said her of­fice comes along­side the veteran to help with the pa­per­work and or­ga­ni­za­tion.

“We write up the bud­get for them and it has to be ap­proved by the Maryland Of­fice on Aging and the VA,” Bird said.

Linda Wil­lis, aging and dis­abil­i­ties ser­vices chief, said th­ese veter­ans also get pe­ri­odic vis­its to keep them on track.

“They make reg­u­lar vis­its and quar­terly vis­its and bud­get checks,” she said, not­ing it can be a daunt­ing task. “When vets are told about this pro­gram, a lot are not in­ter­ested in hir­ing their own em­ploy­ees and pay­ing taxes on it.”

VDC only works if the vet has a sup­port sys­tem, such as fam­ily or friends. Em­s­ley works with Frank to hire the aides, which both said re­mains a chal­lenge.

“They are well paid on an hourly ba­sis,” Em­s­ley said. “It’s just not many hours.”

“You can’t much blame them,” Frank added. “They want to be well-paid.”

To get into VDC, veter­ans have to be re­ferred by their pri­mary care physi­cian in the VA sys­tem. Doc­tors will con­sider the per­son’s level of daily care needed, and how much the veteran can still do for him or her­self.

“Eat­ing is a big con­sid­er­a­tion,” said Cathy Cross, veteran di­rected care co­or­di­na­tor. “Men­tal health and cer­tain med­i­cal needs are also con­sid­ered such as catheters.”

For Frank, it means be­ing able to stay in com­fort­able, fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings. It also means be­ing able to keep her pets within arms’ reach.

“This was an ini­tia­tive by the VA ... to see how to keep vets in the com­mu­nity, to keep them from nurs­ing homes, and to stay in their own homes as long as pos­si­ble,” Tay­lor said.

“I like it,” Frank said sim­ply.

CE­CIL WHIG PHOTO BY JANE BELLMYER

Winifred Frank cud­dles with her dog Happy at her Port De­posit-area home. The dis­abled U.S. Navy veteran was the first to en­roll in the Maryland Veter­ans Af­fairs Health Sys­tem Veteran Di­rected Care pro­gram.

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