United Church Homes Expands Outreach Services

United Church Homes (UCH), based in Marion, Ohio, is well-known as a provider of affordable housing, independent living, assisted living, long-term care, rehabilitative care and memory care to thousands of older adults. But now, it’s expanding its services to provide assistance to older adults wishing to age in place. For UCH, said Terry Spitznagel, senior executive vice president and chief growth officer, it’s a logical expansion, since key to UCH’s mission is helping older adults live with purpose, establish and nurture social connections, and find the peace and comfort of living in safe and sound environments.

For some, that is continuing to live in the place they’ve called home for decades, full of warm memories and surrounded by cherished mementoes gathered over a lifetime.

“Our mission is to provide abundant aging for seniors, wherever they live,” explained Spitznagel. “We’re experts in providing personal services to individuals who call our housing communities home. It’s a natural next step to leverage that expertise to serve seniors who want to continue to live independently in their own homes. If that’s what they want, we want that as well.”

We live in a complex world that can be difficult to navigate. As we age, our needs change and for seniors who wish to remain in their own homes it can mean relying on others. Service providers can assist with yard work, home repairs, housekeeping, transportation and so much more.

“We don’t want to be a provider of one solution,” Spitznagel said. “We seek to provide multiple solutions. It’s always about the needs and desires of those we serve. We only work with the best providers – those that consistently deliver high quality services and are a good match with our mission, vision and values.”

NaviGuide for Aging in Place

Earlier this year, UCH announced the launch of its NaviGuide program, which coordinates personal services for older adults living independently in their own homes. It provides customized support – from basic housekeeping, meal preparation and transportation, to household repairs, medical appointment scheduling and medication management. In just six months, NaviGuide has expanded from serving two counties in Ohio to the entire Buckeye state.

 “Many of the calls we’ve received have been from adult children seeking help for their parents,” said Kim Yoder, who serves as the Program Director. “Some cases involve families in crisis situations… mom is being released from the hospital, there are concerns that she won’t be safe home alone and loved ones have demanding full-time jobs, or don’t live nearby.”

“My job involves a lot of active listening — asking open ended questions and making unbiased recommendations based on each individual’s needs,” she continued.

“We provide solutions for older adults and families by being the trusted advisor they need.”

UCH identifies and works with agencies and organizations with experience delivering a wide range of personal services. Those who seek personal services through UCH can find peace of mind in knowing that providers have been well vetted and are trustworthy. As the word spreads on UCH’s expansion into this unique area of care, a growing number of service providers are expressing interest in partnering.

Consistent with UCH’s mission, it’s always about the customer’s unique needs and wants. UCH offers a range of options in problem solving, working with families to create and implement the best support plans possible.

UCH Engage

Yoder also oversees the UCH Engage initiative, which offers similar problem solving and delivery of personal services to residents in its 60-plus affordable housing communities. Service coordinators are the hearts of these communities — trusted friends and problem solvers eager to understand and address residents’ unique individual needs.

“Again, it’s all about active listening, with compassion and empathy,” Yoder said.

UCH Engage works closely with residents to solve their individual problems. Consistent with federal government (HUD) requirements, UCH Engage provides assistance in navigating Medicare and Medicaid, and helps facilitate access to various benefits and entitlement programs.

Valuable resources and events, like vaccination clinics, educational programs on chronic diseases and blood pressure checks, are available to residents through UCH Engage. Attorneys providing pro-bono assistance on legal matters visit on a regular basis.

Like NaviGuide, UCH Engage focuses on understanding individuals’ unique needs and provides options on how best to address them. UCH has connections to various agencies and organizations with diverse experience and can help residents navigate the complex landscape of government and not-for-profit organizations offering various solutions to life’s challenges.

Recently, UCH’s Parkvue Community in Sandusky, Ohio, received three grants totaling $25,000 for the related UCH Engage program. The Erie County Community Foundation ($5,000), The Dorn Foundaiton ($10,000), and The Mylander Foundation ($10,000) made the grant possible. Through Parkvue, UCH Engage provides a Service Coordinator to identified patients at Firelands Regional Medical Center to complete assessments which target patient needs and design interventions based on diagnosis, health status, social supports and primary care utilization. This program promotes engagement and social activities that combat isolation and depression, which contribute to better health outcomes for patients.

“We are so grateful for the support of these three foundations in providing this valuable service to the community,” said Dan Miller, Senior Executive Director of The Parkvue Community. “We have seen how service coordination can impact lives and are excited to see it continue.”

The UCH Engage program currently provides administration and quality assurance to licensed Service Coordinators working in 14 states.

UCH Cares

Social worker is visiting a senior woman in her own apartment. They are celebrating the elderly lady’s birthday.

UCH Cares is a similar program that matches service providers with residents living in independent, assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. Rachel Harmon manages the program which was initially offered to residents at The Trinity Community at Miami Township. It has expanded to serve residents in the Trinity communities at Beavercreek and Fairwood, and The Glenwood and The Polaris communities.

Like NaviGuide and UCH Engage, UCH Cares focuses on building relationships of trust with residents in an effort to meet their personal needs. Built on a foundation of compassion, hospitality and stewardship, UCH Cares offers convenient, affordable support including housekeeping and laundry services, safety checks, shopping, errands, pet care and more.

“We aren’t limited to a set list of services,” Harmon explained.

“Each residents’ needs are unique, as are our solutions. We bill for as few as just 15 minutes. If a resident needs houseplants watered, that’s all we do and all we bill for. Some residents buy blocks of time, then later determine exactly what their needs may be over the course of a month.

Pet care is typically arranged for residents who are off site visiting family or vacationing. UCH Cares creates a schedule for feeding, walking and playing with residents beloved pets. Creating and following a care plan ensures that residents’ pets continue their regular schedules, alleviating stress for both the animal and owner.

Some residents need assistance with personal care including showering and dressing, while others appreciate support in managing their medications. UCH Cares also assists with scheduling medical appointments and communicating with residents’ healthcare providers and pharmacies. Licensed practical nurses (LPNs) offer wellness visits to monitor blood pressure and sugar levels.

“We offer al a carte services that address residents’ individual needs,” Harmon said. “It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Although UCH Cares is an independent entity, we function as part of the UCH team and embody the same core values.”

Ohio’s Hospice at UCH

Another partner, Ohio’s Hospice at United Church Homes, also provides support to UCH community residents. The Ohio’s Hospice mission aligns with that of UCH, benefiting residents in a variety of settings.

According to Kristy Tocknell, executive director of Ohio’s Hospice at United Church Homes, she and her team are there to help not just residents, but also UCH staff.

“We strive to be seen by patients, their family members and UCH staff as helpful support,” Tocknell said. “We’re part of the interdisciplinary teams committed to providing the very best care possible.”

“We work with patients and their loved ones to develop individualized plans and with United Church Homes staff to implement them,” she continued. “One feels powerless when faced with a terminal illness. It’s our responsibility to give them some degree of control in their final days, weeks and months.”

Communication among patients, their loved ones and Ohio’s Hospice at United Church Homes staff is key to providing the best customized support. Open dialogue at regularly scheduled meetings allows members of interdisciplinary teams to make adjustments to plans as circumstances change. In addition to medical interventions to make patients more comfortable, Ohio’s Hospice at United Church Homes seeks to understand and address emotional needs. Some patients simply seek assistance in managing their pain. Others want to enjoy their favorite activities, like an afternoon of fishing or golf. Family-based support is needed in some situations and palliative care in others.

“Life isn’t cookie cutter,” Tocknell said. “And neither are one’s final needs. We build relationships of trust and respect and work closely with UCH staff to provide quality care and emotional support. Our work is a privilege and sacred honor.”

“What makes our partnerships so successful is our focus on shared values and commitment to those we serve,” Spitznagel added. “Expanding our services is all about finding ways to better support seniors who live in our communities and beyond. The ways in which we do that change over the years, but our mission and commitment to it remain the same.”

The original version of this article, by Catherine West, appeared in the Fall 2022 Spirit Magazine of United Church Homes. Used by permission.

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