Elder Network faces funding crunchAt a time when the elderly population is extensively expanding, the support and care that this demographic needs is being stifled.
By: By Marit Aaseng, Intern Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
At a time when the elderly population is extensively expanding, the support and care that this demographic needs is being stifled.
In the past two years alone, nearly all government funding for the local non-profit Elder Network has been cut. The organization now depends solely on donated support.
According to executive director Gwyn Goodwin-Dalum, “Elder Network’s mission is to provide a broad base of support services for the elderly who wish to age at home.”
The need for this support is especially great in the Douglas County area where the number of people 55 and older is projected to double by the year 2020.
Now more than ever, senior citizens are choosing to remain in their homes instead of living in a care facility, according to Dalum.
“The state budget is in such a crunch financially, staying at home while they age is becoming necessary for the baby boomers,” said Dalum. “There isn’t enough money or space for everyone to have around-the-clock care.”
In order to save money on health care for seniors, the state of Minnesota has a “return to community” initiative. Seniors who are unable to afford full-time care, and have the ability to be cared for at home are removed from the care facility. While this is much cheaper and more efficient, it leaves some people vulnerable.
The Elder Network support system is in place to help these people, and those at home by personal choice. However, its budget is tight as well.
In 2009 Elder Network provided more than 5,000 hours of volunteer service through its nearly 200 volunteers and just 2.5 full-time employees, without any support from government or corporate entities.
“The entire budget of the organization is less than what it would cost for two people to be in a nursing home for an entire year,” said Dalum. “It’s a big bang for the buck.”
Everything that Elder Network collects, and everything it does benefits Douglas County directly. They have many programs in place that help the elderly and their caregivers to maintain a high quality of life.
Many seniors need some encouragement through the changes in their lives – moving, retiring, receiving a life changing medical diagnosis, or losing a loved one. Elder Network offers the support of peer volunteers to assist and listen to these individuals during difficult times. Weekly home visits offer peace of mind and a returned sense of empowerment for seniors.
“It’s so much more than just a visit,” said Dalum. “It’s another set of eyes and ears to make sure the living situation is a safe and healthy one. Something simple really makes a difference.”
The Care Team is a group of volunteers from Elder Network and local churches who offer their time and skills to give seniors transportation and chore support. This makes it easier for vulnerable seniors who choose to remain in their homes to do so safely.
Respite Care Program
Sometimes caregivers for the elderly need a break from their responsibilities. In the Respite Care Program, a trained volunteer spends several hours a week as a companion to the care recipient, giving the caregiver a break.
The Gathering is an adult care program that allows care receivers to interact while their caregivers have time away, for reasonable or no cost. At the twice-monthly program held at Clearwater Suites, seniors participate in crafts, lunch, trivia, naps and entertainment.
Another resource for caregivers comes in the form of caregiver support from one of Elder Network’s three registered nurses. Caregivers receive the knowledge, skills and tools they need to better perform their duties. Goals are set, plans are made and the level of care is determined during in-home appointments.
How to help
Elder Network relies on volunteers to put these programs into action. Most volunteers are peers of the elderly – 55 and older.
“These are retired people looking for a meaningful way to give back to the community,” said Dalum. “People with curious minds and good listening skills. They are pillars in our community…what a great asset.”
The organization has monthly training programs to educate and prepare volunteers, and is always looking for new recruits.
Besides gifts of time, Elder Network is also in need of monetary donations in order to continue and expand its mission. No one is ever denied service, no matter what his or her income.
To make a donation, or make a referral for someone in need of assistance, contact the Elder Network office at (320) 763-9084.