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Program Helps Seniors Age at Home

Monday, May 14, 2012

Article from Marietta Times & Marietta A.M.

Program helps seniors age at home

May 13, 2012
By EVAN BEVINS ,Marietta Times

MARIETTA - Marietta resident Geraldine "Jake" Vandall spent time in and out of nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities for three years, and she doesn't want to go back.

"This is my house. I bought this. And I'm going to stay in it," said Vandall, 60, at her Warren Street home.

While nursing and rehabilitation facilities may be the right option for some people, programs like the Housing Assistance Grant Program through the Area Agency on Aging 8 aim to help seniors "age in place," since remaining in one's home can be beneficial to seniors - and the state's coffers.

A year in an Ohio nursing home costs an average of $60,000 for someone covered by state Medicaid funds, according to figures from the Area Agency on Aging 8. Even people who start out spending their own money could wind up being supported by public dollars once their assets are depleted.

Meanwhile, the annual care plan for Vandall, who is covered by the Medicaid-funded PASSPORT program, costs $8,497.

"If we can keep them in their home for even one or two more years, ... it's just an incredible cost savings," said Joe Gage, AAA8 housing coordinator.

But many people in southeastern Ohio live in large, turn-of-the-century-style homes, often with two stories, according to the Area Agency on Aging. As the population ages, this becomes more of a challenge, with doorways that are not wide enough for a wheelchair to get through and steps leading to the front door.

These are common obstacles in Washington County, where nearly a quarter of the population is age 60 or older, according to 2010 U.S. Census data.

To help Vandall continue living in her home, about two months ago, the Housing Assistance Grant Program funded the renovation of a spare bedroom into an accessible bathroom. Vandall lost her right leg above the knee in 2007 and has to use a wheelchair, but when she purchased her home in 2010, she didn't realize what a challenge the bathroom would provide.

She couldn't get her wheelchair into the shower stall, so her sister had to help her in and onto a seat, but Vandall still had to stand for portions of her shower. Her new shower has a border to prevent water from running out, but it's malleable enough to allow her to pull her chair in and transfer herself to a stool. There are also grab bars installed around the shower to give her something to grip. The detachable shower head means she doesn't have to leave her seat while bathing.

The new sink and mirror are low enough that Vandall can easily access them, and bars around the toilet make getting on and off of it easier.

Vandall said she is grateful for the new bathroom.

"You don't know how much it means to me," she said. "It's great. I love it."

The Housing Assistance program draws money from the Ohio Housing Trust Fund. It covers general maintenance of homes up to $5,000 and accessibility upgrades of up to $7,000. If additional work is needed, Gage said he can try to work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Housing Program, to cover an additional $3,000 to $7,500.

AAA8 will assess a person's home for eligible repairs, develop specifications and put the project out for bid by qualified providers.

To be eligible for the Housing Assistance funding, a person must be at least 60 years old, live in and own their home and have an annual income no more than 35 percent of the median income level for the area.

When the program started more than a decade ago, the agency worked on about 30 houses a year. Now they handle approximately 75, Gage said.

The housing trust fund draws money from fees charged in county recorders' offices, a more stable source of revenue than the state general fund, Gage said. For the current two-year grant cycle, Area Agency on Aging 8 - which covers Washington, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, Athens, Hocking, Meigs and Perry counties - has been allocated $500,000 for such repairs, up from $380,000.

Another recent beneficiary is Marietta resident Wanda Farley, 76. Farley walks around in her house, but uses a motorized chair to cover significant distances, such as going on a walk with her daughter. Before a ramp was installed at her South Sixth Street home a few months ago, getting that chair to the sidewalk was quite an exercise.

"We used to just put a board up to the steps and kind of run (the chair) down, then I'd get on it after I got down the steps," Farley said.

Farley said the ramp will be much more convenient.

"I wouldn't have been able to afford it without some assistance," she said.

Farley knew of other people in the community who'd had such work done and found out more about it from her neighbor, Debbie Streight, a contractor who does some of the Housing Assistance projects and worked on Farley's ramp through her husband's company, Streightline Construction.

"We help the elderly," Streight said about why she participates in the program.

Streight also handled the bathroom remodeling for Vandall, who is her aunt, through her own, self-named business.

Other work she's done through the program includes adding rails and grab bars in houses to help seniors maintain their balance, fixing roof leaks and moving washers and dryers up from basements so residents don't have to negotiate the stairs to do their laundry.

 

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A Program of Buckeye Hills-Hocking Valley Regional Development District