Program brings health care to homes

Southeast Seniors is one of 42 programs that helps people “stay home.”

Naomi Scott

Her Elvis collection and family pictures surrounding her, 73-year-old Joan Peterson got her blood pressure and heartbeat checked by a nurse in the comfort of her home Wednesday.

After she took a bad fall in her apartment in December, Peterson enlisted the help of Southeast Seniors, a neighborhood program that helps seniors live at home more independently.

Southeast Seniors is one of 42 Living at Home/Block Nurse Programs in Minnesota and North Dakota that “do whatever it takes to help a person stay at home,” said Tom Gossett, associate director of Elderberry Institute, which helps residents establish and maintain local home-care programs for elders.

The first program began in 1981 in St. Paul’s St. Anthony Park neighborhood after a group of women noticed elderly neighbors, who had only minor debilitations, were being sent to nursing homes.

The program has since grown into a movement that helps more than 10,000 seniors per fiscal year and is “a community-based approach to organizing care for elders,” Gossett said.

Neighbors serving other neighbors is a key part of the Living at Home/Block Nurse Programs, said Darla Wexler, a public health nurse and University School of Nursing graduate, who has worked with the program for the last 15 years.

Wexler was helping Peterson at her Holmes Park Village Apartments home in the Marcy-Holmes neighborhood Wednesday. Once a week, Wexler comes to take Peterson’s blood pressure and checks for swelling in her legs.

Around her neck, Peterson wears a Lifeline, a monitoring device that alerts a local emergency room if pressed. The device is waterproof, which is especially useful for seniors when they are in the shower, because that is where the majority of falls occur, Wexler said.

A contract with the Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency sends nurses like Wexler to the Living at Home/Block Nurse Programs’ clients, said Marji Miller, executive director of Southeast Seniors.

In addition to nursing care, Peterson takes advantage of the home health aide services Southeast Seniors provides. Twice a week, an aide helps

Peterson shower, empties her wastebaskets and makes her bed.

Peterson said living at home is very important to her. The former hairstylist said that she has lived in Northeast Minneapolis for many years. The beauty shop she co-founded, Maggie’s on Johnson, still operates in its original location in the area.

Peterson said the Living at Home/Block Nurse Program means “everything” to her because she wouldn’t be able to continue living at home without it.

“I’m just really grateful I can be here (at home), and it’s because of the nurse program,” she said.

Volunteer services are another aspect of the Living at Home/Block Nurse Programs. The programs offer companionship to elderly people through regular one-on-one visits and intergenerational activities.

Rachel Giblin, 30, a nursing student at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, said she visits and goes grocery shopping with a woman in her 70s approximately once a week through the Living at Home/Block Nurse Program.

The woman Giblin helps lives in an apartment complex in the Como neighborhood. The complex is home to a lot of University students, Giblin said.

“She told me she likes the vitality of the University community, and that’s why she chooses to live here,” Giblin said.

Giblin, who also lives in the Como area, heard about the program after she was assigned a community service project in nursing school. Although she met her required 20 hours of community service long ago, she said, Giblin plans to be involved in the program for a long time.

“Since I’ve joined, my feeling of community has increased,” she said. “Just knowing your neighbors is important.”

Southeast Seniors, which is located at Pratt Elementary School in the Prospect Park neighborhood, facilitates intergenerational programs between seniors living in Holmes Park Village Apartments and junior high students from Marcy Open School.

Twice a month, the students serve lunch to the seniors and visit with them afterwards, Miller said.

This year, the seniors and students are also making fleece blankets together as part of Project Linus, a nonprofit organization that makes handmade blankets for children in need.

“It’s such a great program, because the kids love coming over to visit the seniors,” Miller said. “And for the seniors – it’s just the highlight of their day to see the kids.”

The Living at Home/Block Nurse Programs also offer group events and talks in the communities, in which topics vary from Alzheimer’s disease, to the aging process, to high blood pressure, Miller said.

Funding is a source of concern for the Living at Home/Block Nurse Programs, Miller said.

The programs receive local and state support, and funding can change from year to year, she said.

Volunteer services are provided free of charge, and nursing service fees are kept as low as possible. Fees are adjusted for patients on a sliding scale, Miller said.

Southeast Seniors, which serves more than 300 elders every year in the Prospect Park, Marcy-Holmes and Como neighborhoods, also holds an annual fund-raising campaign.