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Catholic Health World, June 1, 2009, Honolulu's St. Francis Offers Service that Helps Seniors Remain Independent 

Honolulu's St. Francis offers service that helps seniors remain independent

Given the choice, most seniors prefer to live in their own home as long as possible rather than move into a long-term care facility. But, when their health begins to decline, it can be a challenge for them to remain at home safely.

A new program from Honolulu's St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawaii aims to give seniors the support they need to live independently for as long as they can. Through "Stay Healthy at Home," seniors pay a one-year membership fee of $600 for an individual or $900 for a couple to receive a range of supportive services from St. Francis. Discounts are available to people with limited incomes.

The fee covers a home safety evaluation, health screenings, follow-up assessments, education on managing chronic disease, medication reviews, financial counseling and other support services. "Stay Healthy at Home places a strong emphasis on preventive care and wellness and self-management of chronic diseases," said Pamela Witty-Oakland, who oversees the Stay Healthy at Home program. "This helps to minimize the need for emergency care or hospital admissions and premature institutionalization in long-term care facilities." Witty-Oakland is chief administrator of St. Francis Residential Care Community in Ewa Beach, Hawaii.

Frail seniors in Hawaii who wish to remain independent often have trouble getting the services they need to do so because Hawaii's senior care system is fragmented and difficult to access, according to Witty-Oakland.

Stay Healthy at Home acts as a "concierge" or referral resource, helping clients to find service providers that — for a cost — can assist with tasks including housekeeping, yard work, transportation, shopping, errands and meal planning. St. Francis refers clients to organizations with which the health system has an established relationship. Catholic Charities Hawaii, Honolulu's Elderly Affairs Division and the Hawaii State Department of Health are among the agencies in the referral network.

"St. Francis utilizes the services of these prescreened partners to ensure seniors receive support services from reliable and reputable companies to minimize the risk of fraud against the seniors," explained Witty-Oakland. "We expect this network of providers to grow over time as we expand to offer more services for our members."

Supporting caregivers
Family caregivers of seniors also benefit from the service. It is a cultural norm in Hawaii for children to care for their parents, but they are not always equipped to do so, explained Witty-Oakland. "Many feel a sense of duty to care for their aging parents in their own at home and would consider having their parents stay at a nursing home disrespectful," she said. "Unfortunately, many caregivers are unprepared for the immense responsibility and the growing list of requirements in caring for an aging parent.

"Stay Healthy at Home provides a practical option for these caregivers and also helps them remain healthy and productive as well," she said.

Margaret Kamahele of Oahu participated in a pilot version of the program. A widow and retired nurse, she has relied on Stay Healthy at Home to coordinate supportive services after her recent back surgery. She said the program gives her peace of mind and enables her to use one phone number to access a variety of services.

St. Francis' Witty-Oakland said the Sisters of St. Francis in Hawaii have always been dedicated to identifying and meeting a need in the community with innovative health programs. "The Stay Healthy at Home program is an example of the sisters literally going to where the needs are — in people's homes."