Home Health Care an Option for Many

published in the Gazette’s Mind and Body magazine July 2004


            When Herman Happ's wife became ill, he knew that they would need some help in order to stay in their home.  The Happs were in their mid-80s at the time. "I inquired through the Agency on Aging to see what was available," says Happ, who lives in Marion. The Happs found out that they were eligible for many kinds of services, including having a wheelchair ramp built into their trailer home. Now, after Happ's wife has passed away, Happ has visits from a home health care worker three times a week.

            When it comes to finding help for aging relatives, "many families don’t know where to start," says Ingrid Wechsel, Associate Director of the Heritage Area Agency on Aging. Trying to figure out what kind of help the elderly person needs and where to get it can be overwhelming.

            The best place to begin is by calling the local Area Agency on Aging.  The Heritage Area Agency on Aging (398-5559) serves Linn, Johnson, Cedar, Iowa, Washington, Jones, and Benton counties.  For other counties nationwide, call the eldercare locator number (800-677-1116). There, you will be put in touch with a social worker or nurse who will come and make a comprehensive assessment of the elderly person's needs and recommend home and community-based services that might be needed—from hot meal delivery to transportation to a home health care aide. "This program addresses the whole person," says Wechsel. "The person not only needs a help taking a shower, but they need their social needs met and their spiritual needs met."

            A case manager, whose services are free, will oversee and coordinate the services that are needed. In addition, the case manager can help the family figure out how to pay for any additional services—whether through Medicare, Medicaid, sliding fee scales, or private pay.

            If it turns out the elderly person needs home health care, the case manager can help you figure out which of the many local agencies might be best. According to Julie Knake-Tow, administrator of Comfort Care in Cedar Rapids, "The social workers know which agencies will be most helpful for your situation—we all have our own little niche." Home Care agencies like Comfort Care and Kelley Home Services offer light housekeeping, personal care (bathing, dressing, toileting), and transportation. "We try to find an aide who will fit with the personality of the client," says Alice Barnum, operational specialist of Kelly Home Care. Home care costs approximately $17/hour with a 2-hour minimum visit.

            Most agencies send 1 to 3 aides who will work with the elderly person, providing continuity of care and stability. Check to make sure the agency has back up providers in case the usual aide is unable to come. And be sure to call the agency if there are any problems—most will quickly provide a replacement aide if one person does not work out.

            After 3 months, your case manager from the agency on aging will make a follow-up visit to see that needs are being met. All this can provide comfort for the elderly person and ease of mind for his or her loved ones.

            "You have to ask for help," says Happ. "It’s out there."


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