Caitlin Rowcrow@gjfreepress.com

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September 20, 2012
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Growing old in Grand Junction: Who takes care of us?

GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. - Mesa County services associated with aging run the gamut - from primary and emergency care to nonprofit services and hospice. This broad spectrum of care works to provide a safety net for local seniors, and collaborations between health care organizations appear to be the norm."We're really fortunate in Mesa County to have such a strong group of providers," Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado President and CEO Christy Whitney said.The complex needs of a growing population depend on a multitude of services to aid in the aging process, and "nonprofit health care makes a difference in what we can do together," Whitney added.Mesa County's health-care community also strives to communicate amongst themselves, setting the stage for better care of its aging population."For about five years, the chief executive officers of Mesa County's nonprofit organizations - governmental entities, social agencies, hospitals, a physician organization, and others - have gotten together at the Mesa County Health Leadership Consortium to talk through and address our community's most difficult health-care issues," St. Mary's spokeswoman Kim Williams said.The group, for instance, has met to find solutions for better care of area residents with chronic conditions, Williams noted.

To provide top care for a number of different late-life needs, Hospice & Palliative Care of Western Colorado developed a multi-tiered care strategy involving collaborations with other health-care businesses - for example, Hilltop, St. Mary's and Community Hospital offer connected services. Transportation, as well as palliative care needs, for residents in their last stages of life are thus addressed."There's a new idea a day" on ways Hospice & Palliative Care can help Mesa County's elderly population through teamwork with other groups, Whitney noted.Hospice & Palliative Care is a large, locally run nonprofit which offers a number of family and individual services pertaining to the last years, months and weeks of life. It has a budget of more than $30 million, and it offers both in-home care and live-in care."Hospice is dedicated to the whole family, not just the patient," Whitney said. "And we have a really strong mission. It goes way beyond traditional hospice in the last stages of life. There's a number of family support options through a team of people. It's not just nurses; it's social workers and chaplains covering financials, insurance, food and spiritual."

Hilltop, a Mesa County nonprofit, helps Grand Valley residents of all ages. Senior services - like independent-living options, home care, assisted living, day care, support groups and geriatric case management - are a big part of Hilltop's repertoire, along with services spanning youths, children and families. "If you look at our statistics, Grand Junction has always had a large number of boomers and retirees," Director of The Commons Cathy Story said. "That number is only going up. ... (Hilltop) stepped into senior services because it saw a need."The Commons, which provides a variety of assisted-living options for Mesa County's senior population, is one aspect of Hilltop's senior services. The Fountains provides independent-living options and the Cottages is a Hilltop-run retirement community. Home-care services are available through Hilltop, too."We work closely with Hospice & Palliative Care," Story said, "and with Larchwood Inns, a rehabilitation center. Collaborations are crucial for everybody, and Hilltop has a long history of collaboration. It's always open to partnerships that will serve the community."While there can be confusion over health-care options during an emergency, Story said Hilltop's geriatric case management services can lessen the burden families feel when trying to create a plan for an aging parent.

While hospital services are focused on every age - not just senior care, both St. Mary's and Community Hospital support Mesa County's aging population through emergency services, as well as other health-care options.St. Mary's, for instance, provides West Slope seniors with cardiac and vascular services, comprehensive cancer care, emergency and trauma services, orthopedics and spine services, neurosurgical services, neurology services, etc.Community Hospital offers breast-care services, home-health services, imaging and radiology, lab services, rehabilitation, surgical services and diabetes education to name a few.Grand Valley Primary Care, a Community Hospital-connected health service, also assists by providing Mesa County's local population with preventative options. Primary care is "the most cost-effective way to receive care," said Community Hospital's CEO Chris Thomas. It's "critical to aging," along with "coaching for better lifestyle choices."Thomas, however, noted that as baby boomers age, a burgeoning elderly population will need even more doctors and nurses focused on primary care services. And Mesa County won't be immune to a national doctor and nurse shortage, even with its community health care focus. Needing even more providers will be an ever-present challenge to senior care, Thomas said, and collaborations with other health-care entities will persist and grow."It's less expensive to stay healthy than to fix somebody," Thomas added.

Though St. Mary's Hospital primarily focuses on emergency procedures, it also offers other types of senior aid."Good nutrition is part healthy food and part good company," Williams said. "The Gray Gourmet, a nutritional meal program for seniors sponsored by St. Mary's Hospital, provides both. With dining sites, home-delivered meals, and other nutrition-related services, Gray Gourmet is dedicated to the good health of Mesa County seniors."Another St. Mary's sponsored service - the Senior Companion program - helps the 60+ local population "remain healthy, independent and in their own homes," Williams said. "Without this help, many older adults would be forced to leave their homes for assisted-living facilities or nursing homes."According to Williams, the Senior Companions programs assists with elderly adults' daily activities, like grocery shopping, bill paying and household tasks. Transportation is also provided for errands, like shopping trips and medical appointments. Volunteers may also "provide support and relief to family caregivers," assisting with medicine and doctors.The Marillac Clinic, which relies significantly on hospital support for its services, focuses on filling in service gaps for Mesa County residents without insurance. It's a community health-care option for low-income residents, and its affiliate hospital is St. Mary's. Community Hospital, however, does provide it with support as well.

As part of Mesa County's Department of Health and Human Services, the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) also provides a variety of senior options.Its director, Dave Norman, said Mesa County has traditionally been a hub for older Coloradoans over the years, and AAA formed in 1974 to serve the community's large senior population.According to AAA's website, the agency provides many services for aging adults and their caregivers: Referral, outreach, case management, escort and transportation services, in-home care (chore, homemaker, personal care, home-delivered meals, home repair and rehabilitation), community services (like day care, elder-abuse prevention, legal, employment counseling and referral, health promotion and fitness programs, to name a few) and caregiver services.AAA serves five counties, not just Mesa County, and Norman said he works to provide 40 different types of senior services while working with 19 other organizations.For more info on AAA, visit http://humanservices.mesacounty.us/AdultServices/area-agency-on-aging.aspx.


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The Post Independent Updated Sep 20, 2012 05:08PM Published Sep 20, 2012 04:21PM Copyright 2012 The Post Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.