Photo courtesy of Deirdre Cassidy
Methow At Home has elected a new president, Jim Rauh, who has served on the board of directors for two years. He said he wants to “change the narrative on aging from ‘growing older’ to ‘growing as we age.’” Rauh replaces Betsy Weiss, who helped launch Methow At Home three years ago. Rauh is a biochemist and visited the Methow Valley for 20 years before retiring here in 2013. He recently attended, with Methow At Home Program Manager Dierdre Cassidy, a gathering of the national “Village” movement, which includes Methow At Home.

Low pay, burnout, shortage of training are challenges

Lack of caregivers and reluctance to ask for help are among challenges facing elderly residents — and organizations working to assist them — in the Methow Valley.

Representatives of six local organizations met recently for a wide-ranging discussion of how they each work to assist the valley’s older residents, and how they can work together. The conversation returned repeatedly to the need for more caregivers, whether in supported living settings or for in-home care.

Jamie’s Place, a residential care facility in Winthrop, is the only organization in the valley that trains caregivers, but has found it is difficult to pay them enough to retain them, said Angie Ochoa, administrator at Jamie’s Place.

“Most caregivers are single moms,” Ochoa said. “I train them and pay them $16 per hour. They have kids; $16 per hour is not going to cut it.” Consequently, some of the caregivers she has trained give up the security of steady employment to work for higher wages as independent contractors providing in-home care, she said.

In addition to low pay, caregivers face burnout and physical stress and injury from carrying and moving the people they are caring for, Ochoa said.

Room One, the valley’s “one-stop” social services organization, maintains a list of about two-dozen local caregivers, said Elana Mainer, executive director. But beyond that, “there is no central place for care seekers and caregivers,” she said.

In an effort to address the issue, Methow At Home has initiated a “Methow Valley Caregiving Project,” beginning with a questionnaire for people who are paid caregivers or are interested in working as caregivers.

Methow At Home is a membership organization that supports older people who want to continue living in their homes. The organization brings together people who need help with volunteers who can provide assistance with chores, transportation, companionship and other aspects of living at home.

Methow At Home doesn’t provide home health care services, but often finds members who need those services. With more availability of trained caregivers, more people could age in place, said Betsy Weiss, who has served as president of Methow At Home since its beginnings three years ago.

Identifying issues

The Methow At Home questionnaire was created to identify issues faced by caregivers, according to Methow At Home. In its work with seniors, Methow At Home has found that there is not a central resource for older residents in the Methow Valley to learn about caregiving, and that caregivers also lack a central resource that connects them with clients.

Additionally, education, training and support for local caregivers is difficult to find. There is a limited number of caregivers to meet the needs of people currently looking for care, while the need for caregivers grows as the valley’s population ages and retiree move to the valley.

Methow At Home is hoping to hear from caregivers to get a better idea of their needs and how to support them. The questionnaire is available at Room One, Confluence Health in Winthrop, Family Health Center in Twisp, Jamie’s Place, Ulrich’s Pharmacy and Aero Methow Rescue Service. The survey is also online at methowathome.org/surveys.

“We are hoping that caregivers can provide us with information on the challenge of this profession, so we can help facilitate access and improvements for both caregivers and those in need,” said Marcia Ives, a Methow At Home board member.

Chuck Timchalk of Aero Methow Rescue Service, one of the groups participating in the meeting on aging, said the ambulance service responds to many 911 calls that involve older residents who need non-emergency assistance. About 40 percent of the Aero Methow responses are “non-transports,” such as people who have fallen but don’t require hospitalization. Some people call Aero Methow dozens of times each year, he said.

“Quite often we’re the first agency to walk into a person’s home,” said Timchalk, an EMT. “We’re emergency responders but we spend lots of time calling Room One or doctors … trying to connect people with the right resources to break the cycle” of repeated calls to 911.

People may be reluctant to seek help, or may have difficulty finding the help they need, and end up in crisis. “They could have gone to a doctor a year ago, before things got so bad,” Timchalk said.

Reaching out

The valley’s aging residents need to be encouraged to ask for help, and know where to turn, if they feel isolated or are struggling, said Weiss. “I don’t think we can do enough to make it OK to reach out to others. We need to change the culture. I don’t think its futile, but it’s really hard.”

About half of the people who call Room One for assistance are over 60 years old, Mainer said. Room One works closely with other organizations in the valley to help find the services and support that clients need, she said.

In addition to Room One, Jamie’s Place, Methow At Home and Aero Methow, organizations at the meeting included the Lookout Coalition, which helps people facing difficult medical challenges, and Guardian Angels, which arranges for volunteers to provide companionship for lonely or isolated people.

The meeting, held at a private home, was organized by Laura Ruud and Rob Brooks of Jamie’s Place. “We realized that we haven’t done as good a job at communications as we could do,” Ruud said. “We should know what we are all doing.”

“We want to know what’s getting done for elders and are there unmet needs, and what can be done to meet them,” Brooks said.

The group agreed that continued collaboration among the organizations is important to improving support for the valley’s aging population, and proposed developing an ongoing group that meets regularly.