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Published: Monday, 7/21/2003

Respite-care facilities lessen families' stress

BY RACHEL ZINN
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Don Kellermeyer was stuck.

He needed to help his father settle into a nursing home in Florida, but he was nervous about leaving his father-in-law home alone in Toledo.

He worried that his elderly father-in-law might forget to eat properly, or would be unable to contact help in an emergency.

A hospital worker offered a solution: the respite-care program at Crestview Club Apartments, an assisted-living facility on the Flower Hospital campus. Mr. Kellermeyer's father-in-law stayed there for six days, socializing with other residents and getting help with daily tasks.

“It was a real pleasant experience for us. We could go to Florida feeling that someone was watching over him,” Mr. Kellermeyer said.

Many people who look after relatives are turning to respite-care services when they have an emergency or just need a break. Health-care workers say demand for such services is growing, and a bill in Congress would budget $90 million for agencies to oversee respite care.

Respite services are designed for people who care for elderly parents or developmentally disabled children in their homes. Caregivers can place loved ones in respite care for short periods.

Some respite-care programs house people overnight, others offer day sessions, and some even send health aides or volunteers to the caregiver's home. The programs can be expensive, but people eligible for Medicaid waivers often can use respite care for small fees.

“I can't speak highly enough about what respite care does for families,” said Christine Keran, family support director for Sunshine of Northwest Ohio, Inc. “It's the glue that keeps a lot of families together.”

The Community Respite Center in Jackson, Mich., is having its grand opening this month. The center, which shares a building with a nursing home, is one of the first of its kind in the nation. The 7,000-square-foot center, serving an area that includes Hillsdale County, is devoted entirely to respite care for children and adults.

Costs for day sessions range from $5 to $13 an hour, depending on how much supervision each care recipient needs, Doug Cunningham, the center's executive director, said. Grants and scholarships are available.

“Respite care's been around for 10 to 20 years, but in the last five years, it's really making a resurgence,” Mr. Cunningham said. “A lot of caregivers out there are just kind of getting by and are very tired.”

Donnette Tiggs of Toledo quit her job as an emergency dispatcher last year to care for her mother and father full time. They don't live with her, but she spends most of her day at their house, preparing their meals, cleaning, and bathing her father, who had a stroke.

“My mom and dad always wanted to be at home,” she said. “I'm just trying to give them their wish.”

The Area Office on Aging of Northwest Ohio arranged respite care for Ms. Tiggs through their Family Caregiver Support Network, which started about six months ago. In her case, they had a care worker stay with her parents for about a week in December.

“It just saved my holidays,” Ms. Tiggs said. “It gave me a chance to do some shopping and do things like set up a tree at my house.”

Several agencies on aging and private facilities in the area offer respite care, but the services are sometimes difficult to find.

Promedica Health System started a respite referral program for its Flower Hospital campus last month to make services more accessible. Case managers at the Flower Campus Respite Care program refer caregivers to the appropriate place for their adult relatives.

Crestview has independent or assisted living, the Goerlich Center is equipped to handle patients with dementia and Alzheimer's, and Lake Park offers skilled nursing.

State authorities cited Lake Park last year for several minor violations during its annual nursing home inspection, but reports show the violations have been corrected.

The Flower campus facilities charge $61 to $150 a day depending on a resident's need for nursing care.

“Really, we've been doing [respite care] for 10 years, but we never focused on doing it or bringing it to the public,” Nancy Pfau, director of Crestview, said. “I don't think people are aware that this exists, and it certainly gives them hope.”

Respite programs nationwide may become better organized if Congress passes the Lifespan Respite Care Act, which would authorize funds to provide services and caregiver training, and to create state agencies to manage respite care.

The Senate passed the bill in April, and the House is discussing similar legislation.

“The first thing states have to do is pull these resources together and make sure they're more accessible to families. The hope is to get states to use these funds more aggressively and coordinate them better,” said Jill Kagan, chairman of the National Respite Coalition.

Respite advocates say besides relieving caregivers, such programs offer benefits for the people they serve. Respite programs at Sunshine of Northwest Ohio, geared toward children and adults with developmental disabilities, offer activities like swimming and caring for llamas at its barn in Monclova Township.

Mary Lou and Gerald Wilhelm have used Sunshine's Respite House for their son, Todd, for about five years. The Maumee couple look after their 44-year-old son, who is mentally retarded. They love having their son live with them, but the Wilhelms know they won't be around forever.

“Respite House gave Todd some experience with living alone in an environment that could be more like a group-home setting,” Mrs. Wilhelm said. “It let him be more independent.”


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