Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, May 28, 2001

Freedom for local elderly people means home health

By Lynda Jensen

John is a retired farmer who plays the harmonica, is an expert trapper, and is a crack shot with a rifle at the age of 94.

He's at the sunset of his life - living at peace in the wooded farm house that he's called home for the past 60 years, thanks to home health offered through Wright County.

Home health, to John, is when a county health aide stops by his home every day to help him bathe, get dressed, assist in his cooking, and run errands, for two hours every day, five days a week.

Home health also means that John has a county health nurse stop by once every two weeks, to set up and manage his prescriptions, said public health nurse, Lisa Murphy, South Haven.

John's public health nurse is Mary Nigg, Howard Lake.

John also has a housekeeper, Alvina Kotila of Cokato, who visits him regularly to help with chores.

"I don't know what I'd do without her," John said, referring to Robertson. "They can't be beat."

The fact is, he's right.

The simple act of helping John with the basics isn't a luxury - it's the key to his independence, said County Health Nurse Lisa Murphy.

All four of these ladies serve dozens of Howard Lake elderly in their respective jobs, said John's home health aide, Della Robertson.

The cost of employing them for this work is much less than if John were in a nursing home, Robertson said.

Normally in the past, a man like John would be in a nursing home, Murphy said.

However, in recent years, home health is part of a growing trend of giving elderly people freedom and flexibility in their later years, by allowing them to stay at home, where they want to be, Murphy said.

Public health was very different today, compared to when it started, Robertson said.

This month is the 50th anniversary of public health offered through Wright County.

John's story is similiar to many elderly people, who lived at home until an injury, such as a broken hip, sent them to the hospital for the first time, Robertson said.

The question of being placed in a nursing home is sometimes brought up at this time. At other times, when children come home during the holidays, they realize that their parents aren't doing as well as it sounded on the phone, Murphy said.

"We get a lot of calls during Christmas," she said, because children come home to visit and realize their parents aren't as well off as it seemed, she said.

John's wife, who passed away 13 years ago, was using home health.

When this happens, home health may be appropriate, Robertson said. Now, the county is over-capacitated in home health, although it is offered privately in Cokato and Maple Lake.

People who are candidates for home health are those who are alert and able to make decisions for themselves, but who need some help taking care of themselves, Robertson said.

Home health usually averts trips to the hospital because elderly get the assistance they need for such things as getting in and out of the bathtub or vacuuming, which may precipitate an accident of some kind, Robertson said.

In John's case, he started using home health in 1988, he said. Since then, he has been thriving.

There was a time when John hurt his back, said his son, Jim, but his recovery was speedy in the Howard Lake Good Samaritan Center.

John spent a number of weeks there, and was returned to his home afterward - demonstrating another trend in nursing homes.

Nowadays, more than 50 percent of people who check into nursing homes check back out -returning to their homes, said Cokato Charitable Trust Administrator John Riewer.

Previously, what used to be more expensive hospital stays are now nursing home stays, meant to recover, and then go home, Jim said.

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