Aging with grace

Franklin County Home Care Corp., agency tasked with helping people stay healthy as they age, turns 40

  • Members of the Shelburne Falls Senior Center participate in Tai Chi for Healthy Aging on Monday morning.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Members of the Shelburne Falls Senior Center participate in Tai Chi for Healthy Aging on Monday morning.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Tai Chi for Healthy Aging instructor Alan Young directs members of the Shelburne Falls Senior Center through a class Monday morning.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Tai Chi for Healthy Aging instructor Alan Young directs members of the Shelburne Falls Senior Center through a class Monday morning.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Denise Lemay, Ernie Seguin and Fran Eldred participate in Tai Chi for Healthy Aging courses at the Shelburne Falls Senior Center on Monday.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

    Denise Lemay, Ernie Seguin and Fran Eldred participate in Tai Chi for Healthy Aging courses at the Shelburne Falls Senior Center on Monday.
    Recorder/Micky Bedell Purchase photo reprints »

  • Members of the Shelburne Falls Senior Center participate in Tai Chi for Healthy Aging on Monday morning.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • Tai Chi for Healthy Aging instructor Alan Young directs members of the Shelburne Falls Senior Center through a class Monday morning.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell
  • Denise Lemay, Ernie Seguin and Fran Eldred participate in Tai Chi for Healthy Aging courses at the Shelburne Falls Senior Center on Monday.<br/>Recorder/Micky Bedell

TURNERS FALLS — For 40 years, Franklin County Home Care Corp. has been on the frontline in helping elders, people with disabilities and caregivers throughout the region get access to services they need to live independent lives.

The private, nonprofit corporation, serving Franklin County and the North Quabbin region, was first incorporated in 1974 to provide home care and administer programs designed to support and maintain older persons in the community with homemaking, social services, legal services, nursing services, hot meals, nutrition, medical services or any service that prolongs the life and well being of older persons.

It was funded as a result of the federal Older Americans Act of 1965, which was the first federal-level initiative aimed at providing comprehensive services for older adults.

At first, before the agency’s inception, many of its services were provided by community groups. The creation of the home care corporation brought forth the opportunity for elders to be recognized, says Executive Director Roseann Martoccia.

Today will mark FCHCC’s 40th anniversary.

Over the years, the agency has expanded to include the adult family care program, a long-term care ombudsman program, nursing assessment and evaluation for various services, housing supports at residences, and the expansion of services for persons with disabilities through personal care assistance.

Its programs reached about 11,881 residents in the region last year — not counting residents that use services on a short-term basis.

Despite changes in the healthcare industry, the nonprofit continues to stick to its core mission — to develop, provide and coordinate a range of services to support the independent living of elders and persons with disabilities with a goal of independence.

“Our role is to help people remain independent in their homes and community,” said Martoccia.

The private nonprofit offers a variety of programs for the people it serves.

As the local Area Agency on Aging, its foundation is in serving elders. Programs range from those designed to help keep people in their home or help them return there after a hospital stay and reduce their chances of readmission. Other services include support for grandparents raising grandchildren and help with benefits applications.

One of its most recognizable programs that support people living at home is Meals on Wheels, which provides short-term or long-term help to homebound elders age 60 and older who are unable to prepare a nutritionally balanced noon meal for themselves and are unable to attend congregate hot lunches.

Volunteers deliver meals Monday through Friday and at the same time provide a well-being check — and often some companionship — to elders who might otherwise be isolated.

In the 1990s, FCHCC’s services expanded to include supports people with disabilities through programs like adult family care and personal care attendants that offer ways for people to live with a caregiver or on their own with the right amount of in-home support for their needs.

In the 2000s, FCHCC began to add on and emphasize assistance to caregivers, grandparents raising their grandchildren, and persons with dementia as all three of these groups expand. The demographic of older persons, especially those over 85, is the fastest growing part of the US population.

FCHCC provides support groups for caregivers and advice for elder care.

Through its Information and Caregiver Resource Center, consultants help answer questions on in-home care services, pay for caregivers, caregiver grants, caregiver support legal questions, and fuel assistance.

An ever-changing landscape

The home care corporation has outlasted and adapted to many changes from a growing elder population to the new Affordable Care Act. The evolution of FCHCC over four decades has prepared it for current challenges.

With the current mandate of the Affordable Care Act, with its “triple aim” of improving the experience of care for individuals, improving the health of populations, and lowering per capita costs, the 2010 healthcare law has enhanced much of the work the home care corporation does. The new law emphasizes times of care transitions and linkages of clinical healthcare providers with community partners.

As such, the private nonprofit is strengthening its relationships with healthcare providers.

When a doctor discharges a patient, the home care corporation starts working with doctors to help with the transition as people move from the hospital to a nursing facility to home, Martoccia said.

“ACA is seeking to strengthen and formalize those relationships and to find way to link services on behalf of people we serve with healthcare providers. It’s a win-win for patients, families and cost containment,” Martoccia said.

The Healthy Living workshops, launched in 2011, teach people healthy eating, falls prevention and how to self-manage their chronic conditions like diabetes.

“The more we can each do to positively improve healthcare and learn ways to manage chronic conditions, the better,” Martoccia said.

One of the nonprofit’s less well-known services is its workshop on money management in which people learn to stretch their resources as finances become tighter.

The SHINE program counsels people on Medicare regardless of age and offers free, unbiased health insurance information, education and assistance services. It also helps people make the best choice in regard to prescription drug coverage, home energy efficiency improvements and home health management.

“It helps them tend to their health, well-being and stay in their homes,” Martoccia said.

The nonprofit will soon be faced with the doubling of the elder population as the baby boomer generation ages.

“What do we have to adapt to? One of the challenges will be the workforce and having enough staff with expertise in working with an older population and having enough workers to assist that population,” Martoccia said.

The agency has a wide network and partners where its services reach from hospitals, volunteers, councils on aging, and local senior centers. FCHCC is the designated Area Agency on Aging, the first home care corporation to receive that recognition in October 1975.

FCHCC works closely with senior centers to provide resources and technical assistance closer to elders’ homes. One of its biggest programs is the senior dining centers and luncheon clubs that provide hot, noon meals for people age 60 and older and their spouse of any age. The meals offered are at eight area senior centers, including Charlemont, Bernardston, South County in South Deerfield, Northfield and Orange.

A hallmark of FCHCC has been is volunteers. The agency has more than 500 trained volunteers that work for many programs from Meals on Wheels drivers to SHINE counselors.

The agency’s volunteer programs continue to expand. This year, it plans to launch a new volunteer-based transportation service, Rides for Health, to help people get to and from doctor’s appointments and pharmacy visits.

“Our programs rely on volunteers,” Martoccia said.

For more information, visit:

www.fchcc.org

You can reach Kathleen McKiernan at: kmckiernan@recorder.com or 413-772-0261 ext. 268 on Twitter, follow @RecorderKatMcK

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