Art of Aging: New program helps elderly stay home

SOUTH PHILADELPHIA -- As America's aging population grows, so does an innovative program that helps keep them in their homes and out of nursing homes.

It was birthday party time at the Mercy LIFE center in South Philadelphia.

The room was packed, and everybody rocked along - back to the days before wheelchairs or walkers.

The center is part of PACE - Programs for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, known in Pennsylvania, as LIFE - Living Independently For Elders.

LIFE goes way beyond day care for adults certified to need nursing care.

Sales Director of Mercy, Mary Beth Lavack said, "It is a comprehensive medical and social program that allows seniors aged 55 and older to live in their home and community."

Elders are transported to and from their homes 5 days a week.

"We provide medical, dental, foot doctor, and vision. Everything's included in the program. Mental health programs, hospitalizations, and rehabs," said Lavack.

Participants also get medications and supervision of those medications to prevent duplications and bad interactions.

An in-house physical therapy gym keeps participants moving, and so does the busy activities schedule.

"I want them to be engaged, I want them to socialize," Recreation Therapy Manager Chanel Coleman said.

Coleman says new members are asked about their favorite interests - present and past.

She said, "A lot of participants will say, 'I used to love to dance. I used to love to do, you know, certain things.' "And our job is to provide those activities and modify it or adapt it, so they're still able to do it."

Whether it's called PACE or LIFE, many say the comprehensive care is a life-saver.

Medical Director Dr. Donna Raziano said, "The program has been shown to reduce institutionalizations in long-term care facilities, as well as decrease hospitalizations."

And for patients who qualify through Medicaid, there's no charge.

Lavack added, "They will never receive a bill. There are no co-pays, no deductibles."

There are LIFE programs in Philadelphia, Delaware, and Bucks Counties, and soon, Montgomery County.

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