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Honolulu Advertiser, May 19, 2009, St. Francis Program Aims to Assist Elders 

St. Francis Program Aims to Assist Elders

A service patterned after a novel aging-in-place program that has attracted national attention is being rolled out on O'ahu.

The program, Stay Healthy at Home, is being offered by St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawaii as a way to help elderly Islanders live safely in their homes for as long as possible.

"It's designed to be very senior-friendly," said Pam Witty-Oakland, chief administrator of St. Francis Residential Care Community. "One phone number will give them access to a full range of services."

Stay Healthy at Home is being presented as an alternative for seniors and families contemplating use of long-term care facilities or services. By subscribing to the $600-a-year service, members can phone to arrange free home safety evaluations, health screenings, chronic disease self-management education, pharmacist medication reviews and financial counseling.

People also will have access to a range of discounted services from providers vetted by St. Francis, which traces its roots in Hawai'i's healthcare sector back to 1883.

"What we found is that the services or delivery of care is fragmented within the industry," Witty-Oakland said. "They can get the service, but they have to call around."

Thus, people dialing Stay Healthy at Home's call center can get recommendations on people who can be hired for household tasks, companion services, transportation and home repairs. Providers must agree to offer discounts and priority scheduling to be included on the list.

Stay Healthy at Home also is looking for ways to provide free weekly transportation for grocery shopping.

The service is being patterned after the Beacon Hill Village program developed by a group of elders in an affluent area of Boston. The group formed a cooperative of sorts in 2001 as they looked for alternatives to moving to nursing homes or assisted-living facilities.

Beacon Hill Village members gain access to discounted services, along with exercise classes, wellness seminars, grocery shopping trips and other help such as a concierge might offer.

The effort has garnered notice nationally as a possible alternative for the elderly and has received coverage in The New York Times, on CBS and in other national media.

The Beacon Hill Program also maintains a program under which people who don't have enough money for dues payments can receive services. St. Francis is looking for ways to do that here.

State Sen. Les Ihara Jr., D-9th (Kapahulu, Kaimuki, Palolo) said he believes such a service is needed as Hawai'i faces up to a growing elderly population and a shortage of long-term care facilities.

"One of the big problems is vetting the providers," said Ihara, who is co-chairman of the Joint Legislative Committee on Aging in Place.

"You have to really trust the people who come into your home, especially with the elderly."

Ihara said some of the program's success will depend on how many people sign up, though he hopes it will work.

Partners in the program include Catholic Charities Hawaii, the Honolulu Elderly Affairs Division, the state Department of Health and the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii. The $600 annual fee is not covered by healthcare insurance.

St. Francis already has tested the concept at the Honuakaha senior housing complex in Kaka'ako and at Kukui Gardens. Margaret Kamahele, a senior who joined the program so she could remain in her home, said she used the services to arrange private-duty services, meal preparation and delivery, and in-home physical therapy after she underwent back surgery.

"They are making the arrangements for everything I need," Kamahele said.

Witty-Oakland said St. Francis is finding the service is popular with children who are caregivers but work and can't always be available to help when problems arise.

"We can do that coordination for them," she said.