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Honolulu Star-Bulletin, July 11, 2009, Senior Program a Welcome Innovation 

Senior program a welcome innovation

One of the most appealing aspects of a new Oahu program aimed at keeping senior citizens healthy in their own homes is the "concierge" service that directs families to an array of services with a single phone call.

The old adage that "getting old ain't for sissies" is painfully true, and part of the challenge for seniors and the family members who help take care of them is avoiding that all-too-familiar cycle of illness or injury that puts the elder in the hospital, where he or she grows weaker while bedridden, and therefore can't go home even as the acute illness or injury improves.

Many patients end up in rehabilitation centers or nursing homes to continue their recoveries, which besides being expensive, keeps them away from the familiar comforts and routines of home.

This demoralizing cycle is a central element of the U.S. health-care crisis, as the population ages and alarm grows over the fact that a huge chunk of Medicare and Medicaid expenses are racked up in the last year of a person's life.

So any program that succeeds in keeping older people healthy and out of the hospital is welcome, and likely to be successful and replicated.

While the government and health-care and insurance industries may focus on the cost savings, a major relief for families will be that their loved ones can remain where they are happiest, even when dealing with chronic illnesses or recovering from serious injuries.

The decline in quality of life for senior citizens caught up in a cycle of home-to-hospital-to-nursing home is well-documented, as is the personal financial ruin that can accompany ill health.

The Stay Healthy at Home program developed by St. Francis Healthcare System of Hawaii combats both those problems, offering an array of basic services for a flat annual fee, plus added services for an extra cost.

The program began as a pilot project last year at a senior apartment complex in Kakaako and is now expanding to all of Oahu.

The fact that participants can set up a wide range of in-home services with one phone call — everything from regular diabetes monitoring to light housekeeping is available — makes it less likely that those essential tasks will be neglected, a common occurrence when seniors are left to fend for themselves or when overwhelmed relatives can't keep up with the demands of overseeing a second household.

Anything that helps families navigate the maze of health-care options is helpful, as are the referrals for workers to do household jobs that otherwise healthy seniors should no longer attempt themselves — such as picking those mangoes or lugging that heavy rubbish bin to the curb.

Visit any rehabilitation unit in Honolulu and you'll meet an older person injured while trying to do some mundane household task that they once completed with ease. Besides the broken hip or dislocated shoulder, they're left coping with the sense of loss in their own physical and intellectual abilities and doubt over what their future holds.

A program such as Stay Healthy at Home helps restore a sense of confidence, for both the senior citizens and their families, that home can remain the place to be.