In the Comfort of Home

Eye on LSSI, Winter 2007 ( Download PDF of entire publication)

Fred Wing, 82, with Mary Huffman, one of his Intouch Services home care assistants. “They don’t know it, but I call them ‘Angel One’ and ‘Angel Two,’” says Wing.For Intouch Services clients such as 82-year-old Fred Wing, a Peoria resident, the companionship is just as important as the work his home care assistants provide.

“I have two ladies who come in, and they are truly a blessing. They don’t know it, but I call them ‘Angel One’ and ‘Angel Two,’” says Wing, who’s been a client of the program since September 2006. “It’s like having a good friend stop by and help you out. That might be more important than the dishes and the housecleaning.”

Marfy Huffman, one of Wing’s “angels,” agrees that it’s easy to develop a friendship with her clients. “I just enjoy helping the elderly,” says Huffman, who’s been a home care assistant with Lutheran Social Services of Illinois (LSSI) for 13 years. “I do feel like I’m helping some of them stay in their own home rather than go [into] a nursing home. They have the encouragement to keep going because they have somebody coming in to help them.”

Huffman still visits one of her earliest clients who recently did move to a nursing home. “She finally got so she could hardly get around, but I kept her in her own home for 13 years. She was like a second mom to me,” Huffman says.

Twenty-five years ago, LSSI started a program in Peoria to help seniors stay in their homes. Today, the program’s purpose remains the same, while the need continues to grow.

“The whole purpose of the Intouch Services program is and always has been to prevent the premature placement of seniors in nursing homes,” says Program Director Susie Bohm. “There’s absolutely more need today because we have an aging population. And we are seeing younger clients become part of the program because of chronic health problems.”

Intouch Home Care Services celebrated its quarter-century mark in late 2006 with an open house at the program’s Peoria office attended by both past and current homemakers, clients and the general public.

“We had a nice day reminiscing and talking about how rewarding and yet how difficult it was and still is,” says Bohm, who was the program’s first director and then came back to head it up again in 2004 after leaving it for a time. Della Snider, Beth Dobyns and Beth Pellman who took part in the celebration, also served as directors of the program.

Home care assistants provide a long list of non-medical care, including housekeeping, laundering clothes, assisting with personal care, helping with banking and paying bills, providing medication reminders and transportation to appointments. Intouch makes home care services affordable, enabling seniors to stay in their homes as well as providing caregiving support to families.

Helping clients stay home

After back surgery, hip surgery and a host of other ailments, 76-year-old Leatha Shareef is certain she would have had to leave her home without the help of her Intouch Services assistants.

“They’ve been keeping up with me pretty good,” she says of the various LSSI home care assistants she’s had over the years. “They clean the house for me and help with the laundry if I need it. Sometimes they cook if I need them to,” says Shareef, who has help from an assistant twice a week.

“Having [these services] is the only way I can stay in my home right now,” she adds.

Shareef went with Bohm and other LSSI staff last summer to meet with State Rep. Aaron Schock about the need for senior programs. “I wanted to give him a picture of a client to have in his mind,” Bohm says. “So when they’re talking about senior programs, he’ll know someone who’s impacted by that program. It gave him a face to think about when he goes to vote on legislation that impacts seniors.”

Shareef says Schock was receptive to the meeting. “I just told him a lot of us seniors need help. We might look like we feel good, and we might act like we feel good, but sometimes they don’t realize how sick we are. There are a lot of things we can do, and a lot of things we can’t do.”

Wing and Shareef are among 320 clients currently being served by 115 home care assistants in six central Illinois counties through LSSI’s Intouch Services. Because the services are non-medical, insurance does not cover them, but some clients are eligible for the Illinois Department on Aging’s Community Care Program.

To be eligible for that program, clients must be over 60 years old with liquid assets totaling less than $17,500. Private-pay clients can receive services throughout central Illinois, while state-funded clients must reside in Peoria, Fulton, Marshall, Stark, Tazewell or Woodford Counties.

State funding still a challenge

When the Intouch Services program was first started in May 1981 by the late Dorothy Johnson, then director of the agency, it served 20 to 25 clients, Bohm says. “It started as a block grant from the Department on Aging. The mission has not changed, but the rules, regulations and requirements have become much more stringent over the years,” she adds.

Funding was limited in the beginning, and it continues to be an issue since the state’s hourly reimbursement rate of $13.62 doesn’t cover enough of the cost of administering the program. An increase in the state’s minimum wage would also impact the program.

“It’s truly endangering services,” Bohm says of the state funding situation. “One way we’re trying to address that is by taking on more private-pay patients.”

Recruiting and retaining workers is another challenge because of low wages, although LSSI does offer benefits to home care assistants. “For a lot of the workers, it’s the relationships they develop that keep them coming back rather than the money,” Bohm says. “They feel like they’re doing something important to help somebody.”

Home care assistants receive 16 hours of mandatory in-service training each year, in addition to the initial 24 hours of training they receive when they are first hired. The staff members are fully insured, carefully screened and have all successfully completed a background check.

Affecting the entire community

Bohm stresses that the program has a tremendous impact on more than just the clients and their caregivers. She likens the availability of home care to “ripples in a pool” — a service that touches everyone, benefiting everyone including the taxpayers who fund the program.

“It’s less expensive for us to support people in their own home with state-funded programs like this, than to support them in a nursing home where they really don’t want to be,” she says. “It impacts the economy, family relationships and communities.”

Bohm is surprised at the number of people who still don’t know after 25 years that LSSI’s Intouch Services program is available to them.

“Sometimes adult children don’t think about checking into this until it impacts them, and then they’re somewhat panicking,” Bohm says. “Learning about these programs is important before it becomes a real emergency.”

Fred Wing is one client whose children are relieved to know he’s getting help. His two sons and two daughters, who all live outside the area, had the same reaction when he told them he had made arrangements to receive home care through LSSI.

“I heard the same comment from each and every one of them. They said, ‘Dad, you’re finally getting smarter,’” Wing says with a chuckle.

For more information about LSSI’s Intouch Home Care Services in central Illinois, call Susie Bohm at 309/671-0308. For services in Metro Chicago, call 773/873-3400, and for services in Rockford, call 815/978-4680.