When 66-year-old Josephine Halsteed was stricken with cancer that impaired her ability to walk, she needed someone who could get her to the doctor on a day’s notice. Halsteed, a 40-year Montgomery resident, was able to make a single call and enlist the help of volunteer Joseph Cardonne, a local retiree. For the last three months Halsteed has felt fortunate to have Cardonne’s assistance as well as his company. This is good news for the town of Montgomery whose ground breaking Seniors Independence Project was the program that initially connected Cardonne with Halsteed.
“This project is a life saver,” said Halsteed. “It lets me stay here—I wouldn’t want to give up my home.”
Aging in Place, a national movement among the elderly that helps seniors remain in their homes, fueled the Town of Montgomery to create the Seniors Independence Project. Growing numbers people 65 years and older favor living and aging in their homes over institutional housing or nursing homes. According to the American Association of Retired Persons more than 80 percent of Americans 45 and older say they want to stay home as long as possible. As the oldest baby boomers become senior citizens in 2011, the population of 65 and older is projected to grow faster than the total population in every state. Municipalities are realizing that they need to have resources in place for the aging baby boomers.
For the year 2015, the New York Census projects 3.7 million people will be 60 years old, 2.6 million people will be 65 years old, 1.1 million people will be 75 years old and more than a third of a million people will be 85 years or older. The growing senior citizen population in Orange County has reached beyond the 2000 US Census count of 62,721 for those 55 and over. Projections for 2015 say 89,003 senior citizens will be living in Orange, Sullivan, and Ulster Counties, a 25 percent increase from today’s numbers. The New York State Office for the Aging has projected that 25 percent of the working population will be at retirement age by 2012. “Very soon there will be different types of needs that will likely reach a crisis level,” said Susan Cockburn, town of Montgomery supervisor. “We need to be prepared.”
Cockburn was initially approached by Sandy Altman, who suggested the town formally assist seniors living at home. Altman, of the Walden-based law firm Jacobowitz & Gubits, practices elder law, estate planning, and probate, and volunteered his legal expertise for the town’s senior project. The effort quickly attracted community members, professionals, and local nonprofits, creating the Seniors Independence Project, the first broad-based assistance program for seniors run by a municipality.
Bewildering smorgasbord of services
For most seniors needing a ride to the store, the doctor, or help changing a light bulb, means they have to sort through an often bewildering smorgasbord of volunteer organizations until they find a good fit in terms of need and scheduling, often enlisting multiple groups to suit their needs.
Ann Caldwell is completely bedridden in her home from her struggle with cancer, and the 69-year-old has a rotating assortment of people helping her on a daily basis. “My 24-hour homecare aide is from WellCare, who subcontracts other agencies for this and other services,” said Caldwell. (WellCare is a healthcare plan that manages different health services). She called Faith in Action, a national interfaith volunteer organization with a Middletown-based program, for someone to come and fix a leaky faucet and another call for someone to do her shopping.
Hilda Long, 63, a Montgomery resident of 38 years, called Faith in Action to get a home aide. “[The aide] helps me with my bathing and she helps me get dressed,” said Long, who has suffered a series of operations including open heart surgery. For transportation she calls Magda Skermo, who arranges rides for seniors and works for both Faith in Action and the Seniors Independence Project.
The Seniors Independence Project aims to offers “one-stop- shopping” for seniors, providing one number at Town Hall for their day-to-day needs. The project hopes to become a blueprint for local and state governments nationwide. The goal, Cockburn said, is to develop a program that coordinates volunteers and vendors who provide services to the elderly with the town acting as a logistical umbrella, overseeing essentials such as background checks of volunteers and liability issues.
Work on the project started in February, 2006, and got off the ground just a year later this past January. Getting the program started was a challenge. The town board had to be assured that additional liability insurance for volunteers would not be costly to the taxpayer and that the working partnerships between the private, nonprofit agencies would run smoothly. It took about eight months for the town to give the project the go-ahead.