County investment helps more older adults live safely at home

September 8, 2016

Dorothy Rogers, second from right, Oregon Project Independence client

Dorothy Rogers is a spry 90-year-old. She cooks her own meals, chats animatedly with anyone who will listen and gets around just fine with a little help from a walker.

Still, there are things she can’t do anymore. There’s mopping, for one. And also bill paying, driving and checking her pill box to make sure she’s taking the right medication at the right time and on the right days.

“The older we get, definitely, we need extra attention because we can no longer carry on like we did at the age of 35 or 40,” Rogers told the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners Thursday. 

Rogers is one of 890 Multnomah County residents who gets help around the house through Oregon Project Independence, a statewide program that supports independent living among older adults. Program participants -- adults age 60 and older -- receive help with personal and home care, home delivered meals, money management and other services. The program is aimed at helping older adults stay in their homes -- and out of nursing homes and similar facilities -- for as long as they wish.

Late last year, however, the end of one-time state funding and a change in the salary structure of home care workers caused the program to close to new clients. In June, a waitlist for the program contained 195 names and no new names were expected to be added until July 2017.

Among those consigned to an indefinite stay on the waitlist was a 68-year-old woman who had fallen on the floor while getting out of her bathtub. She laid on the floor for 12 hours before she was able to drag herself to a telephone, Hollywood Senior Center Executive Director Amber Kern-Johnson told the Multnomah County Board of Commissioners Thursday.

Oregon Project Independence
Amber Kern-Johnson, executive director Hollywood Senior Center

The senior center is one of seven district centers that partner with Multnomah County to provide case managers and home care workers for older adults in the program.

“This is a program that keeps older adults in their home and many of those individuals are individuals who are at risk of losing their housing subsidy without that additional support,” Kern-Johnson said.

The Board of County Commissioners, at the suggestion of Commissioner Loretta Smith, voted unanimously in June to add $400,000 in one-time only funding to the county’s budget to help eliminate the program’s waiting list and move people into services.

Smith said it was clear to her when she saw the waitlist that something needed to be done.

“We want to make sure that more people like Ms. Dorothy (Rogers) are able to stay in their home and be a part of our community,” Smith said Thursday.

Oregon Project Independence
Commissioner Loretta Smith

After the budget was approved, the county’s Aging, Disability and Veterans Services Division worked with Hollywood Senior Center and the other partners to figure out how to divide the money and prioritize the waiting list to get care to those most in need.

They set a goal to move 100 people from the waitlist by June 30, 2017.

Kern-Johnson said 31 people had been moved from the waitlist as of Sept. 2. Half of them now are receiving services through the program. The other half are waiting to be paired with home care workers.

Among the people who has received help is the woman who fell in her bathroom. Someone now comes to the woman’s home to bathe her and provide housekeeping. With help from her case manager, she also now has a medical alert system.

“These are the kinds of success stories and the impact you made with that investment,” Kern-Johnson said. “You listened and you responded. You showed us you care. You showed us your commitment and we are incredibly thankful.”