Published on December 12, 2015

Aging with dignity can be challengingAging with dignity can be challenging

Every day for the next 18 years, about 8,000 Baby Boomers will turn 65 according to The SCAN Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people age with dignity. Ninety percent of those retirees say they want to stay in their homes.

But, the reality is that most people will eventually need help in order to do so. Nineteen million seniors currently need long-term care and support and that number is expected to nearly double by 2050.

“The need is much greater now than it was years ago,” said Trish Antonellis, RN, private service specialist at the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod. “It’s very hard to keep up with it. The number of clients that we’re helping has grown and continues to grow.”

The VNA offers a variety of very important services to help people stay in their homes – everything from cooking meals to rehabilitation. A large majority of these services are offered by their Private Services Division, which features homemakers and home health aides.

Homemakers do housekeeping, laundry, shopping, errands, meal preparation and drive people to their appointments. Their focus is to do all the necessary little jobs that the client can no longer do. Home health aides do all those same jobs, and can also help with personal care such as bathing, hand care, foot care, mouth care and medication cueing and reminders.

“We do a lot of outreach to the family as well,” said Danielle Eacobacci, RN, paraprofessional and private services manager at the VNA. “We communicate with updates if there has been a change of status or if we think their family should come visit because there are some home maintenance issues that might prevent their parent from being able to stay at home.”

Antonellis said the holidays always bring extra phone calls and new clients because so many grown children live far away from their parents. An elderly parent might sound fine on the telephone, but an in person visit can reveal that they have let their housekeeping or personal hygiene slide.

“It’s a nice peace of mind for people who aren’t on the Cape with their family members to know that there is somebody checking in on them,” Antonellis said. “It’s another set of eyes on that person making sure there’s enough food in the fridge and that the utilities are working, especially in the winter months when they can’t get out.”

One of the other vital things the VNA staff does when they are in the homes is report any changes of status in the client’s health. That helps the nurses start to investigate what other services the clients could qualify for or financially afford. The reporting system is vital to getting more services to meet the client’s changing needs.

“Some of our patients have the long-term care insurance, which has been a godsend because if they didn’t sign up for that they wouldn’t have the financial ability to pay for these services,” Eacobacci said. “If they don’t have funds, they qualify for services from Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands and can be referred to a care manager over there.”

Elder Services of Cape Cod and the Islands contracts with the VNA to provide home health aides and homemakers for these people. Seniors that are homebound with at least one disability might also qualify for a home health aide from the VNA’s Certified Services which is usually paid for by Medicare.

“When I first began my career in the 60’s being a diabetic mother meant complications, either with the pregnancy or the child’s general health and well-being. With the development of new drugs like Rhogam (Rho(D)), we’ve been able to transform a once life-threatening situation into a more stable, successful pregnancy and birth. It’s amazing. Technology and knowledge has increased so much, there is now so much more that you can do.”

Alongside the technology, Cruz noted that the patients themselves were pretty remarkable. “The maternity unit is a mostly happy place, but occasionally you have a scenario where a birth is not what you expect or a child is suffering from a condition that needs additional treatment and support. I’ve watched as parents rally and advocate for their children, wanting to learn everything they can about an illness or condition. I’ve been able to be a part of the team that helps to empower them. It’s a really good field to belong to.”

When she looks back at her time spent on the hospital campus, Cruz has nothing but love, fond memories and lifelong friendships. “Many of my friends are nurses from the hospital, some who have since passed. When I think about all that I’ve seen here at Cape Cod Hospital I think about them. If they could get a glimpse of CCH now would they be proud of the history and changes that have taken place? Absolutely, and I am certainly proud to have been a part of it.”