This Christmas morning, John Cook will wake early as he normally does. He will set aside his wife Harriet’s medications – six pills in the morning and six in the evening – and get her up and dressed. He will prepare and feed her breakfast, check her blood sugar and give her insulin .
He will remind Harriet – or Hatsy, as she’s known by friends and family – several times throughout the day that he is her husband, that they have been married for 53 years, that they have a daughter and that he loves her.
Then, on Thursday, he will endure the most difficult decision he’s ever had to make throughout their more than half-century together: to move Hatsy from their West Chester home into a nursing facility at The Emeritus at Long Cove Pointe in Mason.
“It’s been the hardest job that I’ve ever had,” said Cook, 74, of the 10 years he’s spent caring for Harriet since she was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease at age 63.
It’s a process Cook says has been made easier by a complimentary home visit program offered by Emeritus Senior Living, which operates the facility in Mason and another in Edgewood.
The Seattle-based company launched the free service in 2009 at each of its more than 470 assisted-living and memory care facilities nationwide. Emeritus staff donate their time and services to the program.
Family members can request an Emeritus volunteer visit their elderly loved one at their home to check on their welfare and conduct an evaluation of their needs. The hour-long visit can include a range of services, said Janice Hare, community relations director at Emeritus in Mason, which has conducted more than 160 home visits this year.
Often the need is a medical one, in which case a volunteer nurse conducts a psychological and physical evaluation and Emeritus then connects the family with the proper resources and services.
Emeritus maintenance workers have volunteered their time to do simple home repairs and a housekeeper once took care of a former patient’s cat one weekend when she was hospitalized. Mostly, volunteers offer companionship and a sympathetic ear to seniors. “We all work in this field already, so we already have compassion for seniors,” said Hare.
The service operates primarily through referrals from agencies and emergency services providers and from those who have expressed an interest in either themselves or a loved one moving into an Emeritus community.
But the little-known program is free for all seniors, regardless if they choose to stay in their homes or move into a facility, said Chris Pfeiffer, executive director at Emeritus at Long Point Cove in Mason.
That “safely somewhere” corporate philosophy is what attracted social worker Debby Farmer to Emeritus, who regularly participates in the home visit program both in her role as community relations director and as a volunteer. “It’s a very different approach than most other companies you work with,” she said.
The concept of a forprofit company offering a nonprofit service at a time when the budgets of many county services for seniors is shrinking is a novel one, said Mary Day, director of the long-term care ombudsman program in Southwest Ohio. Pro Seniors, a Downtownbased nonprofit, runs the program locally for the Ohio Department of Aging.
Day says she’s unaware of any of the more than 200 nursing home facilities in the Greater Cincinnati area that offer a similar service. “It’s certainly a good way to see how they treat their customers before you become a paying customer,” she said, but cautions that programs offered by publicly traded companies may come with an agenda.
She points to similar services offered by nonprofit organizations, such as the Council on Aging of Southwestern Ohio, which offers home care services for seniors on a sliding-fee scale, and Warren County Community Services, which is recruiting volunteers for a “friendly visitor” program for seniors.
Hare said the volunteers do not engage in high-pressure marketing and present information about Emeritus communities only when requested.
“If a family member asks us to go and not mention what we do, that’s what we do,” she said.
In John Cook’s case, the free home visit program is ultimately what led him to place his wife in Emeritus’ respite program. Volunteers visited Cook about four times in the past three months.
“When I take (Harriet) in, I will know people there from having people in the field and being able to talk to them,” he said.
Until then, “ I’d like to spend one more Christmas at home with her,” he said.