In the News

Aging in place with dignity

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Special to the Times

Statistics and studies before him, Russell Hansel pulled no punches in making a prediction: things will get worse before they get better.

“I can’t see the need going away,” he said.

He spoke of a topic close to all.

As Mercer County — and all of America, for that matter — ages, there will be an increased need for home nursing services for the elderly, said the executive director of Mount Carmel Guild of Trenton (MCG), a nonprofit agency provid ing services for the poor and vulnerable of the area.

There’s a critical need now, he said, one that is expected to worsen.

“We need to provide home- based services in order to assist seniors with aging in place with dignity,” Hansel said.

Which is exactly what MCG provides: in-home skilled nursing care for the “medically needy and economically disadvantaged.”

“We know that eventually people get to the point where they must go into a nursing home,” he said, “but if we can prevent premature placement into a home, then it’s a win-win for all.”

It’s a victory for the elderly patient, he said, because they remain at home with MCG’s help through a variety of medical services. And, it’s a clean sweep with taxpayers and providers such as hospitals and businesses not feeling the financial burden of facility care.

“If a patient is going into a home for things like blood-pressure and sugar-level checks and pre-fill insulin syringes, we can do that for them at home,” Hansel said. “It’s obviously cheaper to do it at home in the community over a period of time than in a nursing home.”

It’s a service MCG has provided for more than 65 years without fan fare and with little staff — in fact, just three nurses. It’s a free service that relies on funding such as that generated by its annual fundraiser. This year’s 12th “Casino Night at the Races” is slated for 7 p.m. Oct. 12 at the Trenton Country Club on Sullivan Way.

MCG’s home health nurses cur rently provide free services for 71 patients, each for about 30 to 45 minutes a week. Elderly patients enjoy remaining in a familiar setting, too.

“We have some patients living in homes in which they grew up and raised their own family,” said Hansel. “There’s an emotional attachment.”

Statistics and studies bear out the need for at-home services like those provided by MCG: Some 16 percent of Mercer County residents are 60 or older, according to Han sel. The fastest growing age group in the county is those 80 and older. The 85 and older age bracket is ex pected to increase 74 percent by 2010. Since 1990, the percentage of Americans 65-plus has more than tripled (4.1 percent in 1990 to 12.7 percent in 1999 and the number has increased 11 times (3.1 million to 34.5 million). The number of persons 65-plus could reach 39.7 million by 2010, 53.7 million by 2020 and 70.3 million by 2030.

Some Mercer County agencies also have warned of an impending demand for home services.

“There is a need for more community-based services in Mercer County to provide in-home care to senior citizens,” according to the Local Advisory Board’s executive summary.

The United Way of Greater Mercer County in its Center for Ex cellence report said there is a need for cost-effective in-home care “to help prevent premature hospitalization or institutionalization.”

National support, said Hansel, is eroding.

Medicare, the largest provider of in-home care for seniors, saw spending fall from $14 billion in fis cal year 1998 to $9.1 billion in 2000, a 34 percent reduction.

“As a result, many seniors now must themselves pay for the in- home care that they require or seek assistance from agencies,” stated a recent MCG narrative.

MCG in-home patients average 70 to 80 years of age.

“We do have some 101,” said Mary Linda Hahn, MCG nursing di rector. “They are at home and that’s our goal: to try and maintain them in their homes. We have a number who have been with us 10 years or more and just aged in place.”

Patients are referred to the service from a variety of sources, including physicians. MCG then performs an in-home evaluation before beginning assistance.

“We help them with their medicine planners because many have vision trouble or can’t open bottles,” she said. “We give injections if needed and pre-fill insulin syringes. We have no mechanism to buy their medicines for them; they have to do that. Our services are free.”

The nursing staff, totaling three including Hahn, work along with other agencies such as Meals on Wheels.

“We cover a lot of ground every day,” she said.

A related goal of the home program is to provide seniors access to MCG’s Emergency Assistance, a program providing help with food, nutritional counseling, and prescription and rent assistance.

MCG was founded in 1920, and its Home Health Nursing Services program in 1941. During its inaugural meeting, MCG defined its mission as “The Cure of Poverty Head, Heart and Spirit.”

Funding today comes from fundraisers, Mercer County, the United Way and pharmaceutical companies, among others.

“The home program is not well known,” Hansel said, “yet there is such a need. We are in need of funding to keep this program going.”

It’s a program run efficiently, he said, that aids seniors while saving others money.

“It’s cost-effective to maintain folks at home as opposed to a nursing home,” he said. “Businesses save money, too, not losing employee time when they have to go out and help family. The cost sav ings to the business community has to be significant. It’s a win for the patient, the family and the larger community of hospitals and businesses.”

For more information on MCG’s home nursing program or the upcoming fundraiser, call (609) 392-5159.

© 2007 The Times. Used with permission.

Donations with Dignity

Trenton’s Mount Carmel Guild has a tradition of giving
Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Special to the Times

Inside the Mount Carmel Guild in Trenton stood stacks of toys piled as high as they would stand. In heaps several feet high, play sets, games, action figures and blocks shared oversize trash bags with dozens of other gifts waiting to be given away.

On the stairs, dolls of every shape and face formed a huge chorus line that stretched up and down both sides. They would all be under trees by Christmas morning.

For older children, a pyramid of footballs, basketballs, and kickballs was in the adjacent room. Through the next door was a table with an array of jewelry and watches.

And then the mothers, fathers and grandparents came to the Guild on North Clinton Avenue. By noon on Friday the massive piles had been reduced to a scattering, but more than 200 families had something to give their children for Christmas.

The toy giveaway to needy families is a long tradition for the Guild, founded as part of the Trenton diocese in 1920. Sister Rosetta Buckley has helped with the program since 1985 and was administering on Friday when a mother showed up looking for presents for her younger children.

“Where do you live?” Sister Rosetta asked. A few strokes of the pen on a clipboard and the two moved into the high-ceilinged room where the remnants of all the donated presents were kept. The mother picked the gifts, with Sister Rosetta helping her along.

“What size?” she asked the mother who was looking for a child’s coat.

Later, between visitors, Sister Rosetta expressed her gratitude to the area churches and parishes that donated the enormous amount of toys.

“These people put their heart and soul into these gifts,” she said. “It’s not just, ‘Here’s something.'”

By her calculations, nearly 3,000 gifts had been picked up and taken out since the giveaway began.

Sister Rosetta admits it may be very hard for some parents to go searching for donated gifts since they cannot buy their children something for the holidays, but that the Guild tries to remain as respectful to its clients as it can be.

“They at least have the dignity to pick out for their own kids,” she said.

Behind the house, in a square white cinder-block structure, Sister Loretta Maggio helped to fill a different need. That morning, she was talking to recipients of packages from the Guild Food Bank, open year-round and serving the poor of the area.

“Most of the people we serve are on very fixed incomes,” she said.

She talked about the working poor, minimum wage holders, temp service employees, Social Security recipients and their families who together make up the majority of the Guild’s clientele.

“Some of these people have an annual income of $7,000, $10,000, $12,000 a year,” she said. “It’s almost impossible to live.”

So, with a combination of grants from the state and the United Way, along with private donations, each day the Food Bank fills shopping bags with essentials and presents them to walk-in customers.

When people come in, Sister Loretta, one of the other nuns or a volunteer will ask them for some identification, who is in their household and what kind of place they are living in.

“When we meet with them we find out kind of the whole picture,” Sister Loretta said.

Knowing more information helps in putting the bags together. If someone does not have access to a full kitchen, what they will be able to cook is limited. Medical conditions like diabetes also affect what goes in the bags.

In addition to its food supply, the Guild provides a homeless prevention program and prescription assistance. And for two hours each morning and two hours each evening, Sister Loretta and a nurse provide care for residents with HIV and AIDS.

“Most times, people are running on ‘E’,” Sister Loretta said, pointing out that people’s finances — and stomachs — are often empty.