Homer Senior Citizens redesigns operations

There are changes afoot at Homer Senior Citizens Inc.

“We’re redesigning the whole kit and kaboodle,” said Executive Director Keren Kelley. “That means we’re looking at defining and strengthening activities that are presented to the participants so we can make sure we’re doing cognitive, as well as physical and social activities.”

A set of specific, measurable outcomes has been developed to monitor the progress.

“What we’re looking for is stabilizing the participants’ levels and documenting if they regress,” said Kelley. “That’s when we kick in other techniques to improve their quality of life.”

HSCI offers assisted living at The Terrace, Friendship Center Adult Day Services, independent housing, nutrition and transportation programs, and Meals on Wheels. To monitor and aid in communication between HSCI, participants and participants’ family and private caregivers, electronic records for Terrace residents and Friendship Center participants will be implemented beginning July 1.

“That way, if someone says, ‘Mom didn’t get her breakfast,’ we can go back and take a look,” said Kelley. “It’s about focusing on specific details, trying to improve the quality of care we deliver.”

Another change is the hiring of Kathy Hedges as manager of Friendship Center.

“(Hedges) used to be the activities director in assisted living. She has a lot of experience with how to design and follow through with programs,” said Kelley. “She’s been doing this a long time and they know her well. We needed her drive for this.”

Hedges has a degree in speech pathology and audiology. An internship led to the field of disability advocacy, which she continued to pursue in the early 1990s by working with the PRIDE program, a program of South Peninsula Behavior Health Services addressing the needs of individuals with developmental disabilities. Hedges was HSCI’s assisted-living activities director from 2004-2008. She also was the caregiver for her husband Howard during the last years of his life, until his death in 2007.

For five years following Howard’s death, Hedges served as administrative assistant of Homer United Methodist Church, a role that “kind of got me back into social services again,” she said.

After her mother’s death a year and a half ago, Hedges began participating in programs offered by HSCI.

“When (Kelley) asked me to be manager, it was the perfect time,” said Hedges. “I was thrilled. Seniors have always been my passion, and now I’m back. It’s great.”

Friendship Center offers a family caregiver support group, which provides another avenue for communication between the center and caregivers, “less confusion and more continuity,” said Kelley. “The focus is on patterns (of care), keeping consistent with those patterns and that’s how you’re able to have the best care.”

The Caregiver Support Group meets at the HSCI conference room from 2-3:30 p.m. the second and fourth Thursday of the month. Presenters and discussions address such topics as resources, dementia, safe body mechanics at home, nutrition and caregiver stress. The topic for the June 26 meeting is family communications and caregiving, presented by Judy Warren, project coordinator of the Kenai Peninsula Family Caregiver Support Program.

Expanding the center from a five- to a seven-day program also is being explored, in order to provide more support for working caregivers.

“Eighty percent of caregivers are unpaid family members and that provides a great hardship on family, plus the stress of full-time caregiving creates strokes, auto-immune diseases and mental health issues,” said Hedges.

While HSCI strives to maintain the functioning levels of individuals with everything from dementia to physical health problems, and to maintain and provide a social place that allows individuals to interact with others, it also enables caregivers to work, take care of themselves and have a break.

“It’s a gift to be able to (care give), but you need to be able to survive it too, with your health intact,” said Hedges, who speaks from personal experience.

An Alzheimers-dementia wing is being considered by HSCI as another means of providing necessary services.

“Our goal is to be able to provide care here, keep families from having to be split up and send loved ones out of the community,” said Hedges.

Friendship Center has about 30 registered participants, as well as “guests” that come for certain programs or at certain times of the days. Participants are there from 9 a.m.-3 p.m., but extending the hours until 4 p.m. is being explored.

“We’re doing a survey to make sure if that works and, more importantly, being open for the weekend,” said Kelley. “That way family members truly have respite care.”

A community survey will help determine what extended hours and days per week best meet community needs.

“The more support I have from the general public, the easier it will be to convince the board to do this,” said Kelley.

Copies of the survey can be picked up at HSCI or completed online.

In addition to Hedges and Assistant Manager Mary Jo Gates, Friendship Center has a three-member staff, and is assisted by HSCI volunteers. 

“We also have support of the nursing staff,” said Hedges. “Homer Seniors used to be isolated departments, but now we’re one huge organization where we work together, share resources and experience, and come together in one product that has a lot of cooperation and teamwork.”

For more information about Friendship Center or to complete the center’s survey, call 235-4556 or visit homerseniors.com.

McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.jackinsky@homernews.com.