By Lindsay Nixon, RN, BSN – Guest Contributor
“We have medicalized aging, and that experience is failing us.” – Atul Gawande, mortal being
One of the inevitable, but rarely addressed, aspects of aging is the loss of autonomy. While society idolizes youth and the idea of being self-sufficient, the process of growing old and asking others for help – even our children – can be an emotional experience. For many, the loss of autonomy and the fear of becoming a burden weigh heavily on our minds.
90% of seniors would rather stay at home than move to a retirement community, assisted living facility or retirement home. The cost of assisted living facilities can average $8,000 per month, and skilled nursing facilities charge nearly double that. With health insurance only covering one stay in rehab after qualifying hospitalization, many in our community are trying to both manage homeownership and deteriorate their health.
For the past 11 years, Evangelical Homes of Michigan (EHM) has offered a program in Washtenaw County that aims to provide the missing pieces to this puzzle. Julia Wellings, COO of EHM, took the time to tell me about the LifeChoices program and its history. She explained, “LifeChoices’ goal is to keep members as well as possible for as long as possible by supporting them in their homes and allowing them to age in place. We assign each member a Wellness Coach and immediately begin working together to achieve this goal. »
LifeChoices provides in-home nurses and caregivers, housekeeping and maintenance services, exercise physiologists and massage therapists. If needed, the program will provide transportation to and from medical appointments, and you may even find staff grocery shopping for members during the height of the pandemic. Members are permitted to use certain services that may be needed, at least two hours per week, immediately after registering for the program.
Members like Jamie Dylenski of Ann Arbor, who currently only uses the personal trainer service, say she has peace of mind knowing that as she gets older she will have support services for her and her children. She explained, “I don’t need much more than [the trainer] now, but I know I will eventually. And when the time comes, I will have what I need.
When she first heard about the program, Dylenski was skeptical and took the deal to her lawyer and financial planner. After the two advised her to join, she and her husband signed up to become members. Years after their initial enrollment, her late husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease.
Jamie explained that during her illness, the LifeChoices program was a saving grace. “The team that came to us was incredible. I don’t think anyone is ready to be a full-time carer, and children – even adult children – are often unprepared for all that entails.
After hospitalization, her husband needed a qualified nursing facility to provide rehabilitation services before returning home. The hospital case manager told him the EHM Skilled Nursing Facility might be difficult to get to – then came back a few hours later and asked how Jamie had been accepted. Wellness coaches from the LifeChoices program had already been on the phone with Jamie, working on transferring him to their facility before the hospital even requested it.
In his final days, Jamie’s husband needed medication every two hours. “I thought – I can’t do this, I’m so exhausted! So I called LifeChoices – the only number I ever had to call – and told them what was going on. Within hours they had someone at our house who was going to spend the night and give the medicine if needed so that I could rest.
Initially, members pay a membership fee based on their current age and must additionally pay a monthly membership fee. Registration fees range from $25,000 to $50,000 depending on the age of the member at the time of registration, with monthly fees ranging from approximately $250 to $500 per month. There is a discount for couples who register together. The average age of members is around 70, but when I spoke with Jamie she made it clear to me, “the sooner you can join, the better off you will be”.
Wellings added: “Some people are concerned about such an upfront investment, that there’s a question of where the money goes if they don’t use all the services right away. LifeChoices isn’t just an EHM program — it’s overseen and regulated by the state. Registration fees are escrow, refundable and amortized over time. Once people realize that the state oversees how we manage program funds, that changes things.
If a diagnosis such as dementia or physical disability creates an unsafe living environment for a member to stay in their home, the cost of moving to an assisted living facility or skilled nursing facility is covered by LifeChoices membership . Wellings gave the example of a member who was diagnosed with dementia a few years after joining the program. “She didn’t have anyone to look after her at home, so she moved into an assisted living facility, and now she’s been in a skilled nursing facility and has been for years.”
I hear her pressing the keys on her calculator, whispering the monthly numbers she and I had calculated for nursing home care earlier in our call. “Overall, outside of the program, his care could have cost $750,000, with that number growing every month.”
“And LifeChoices covers all of these costs, outside of registration and monthly membership fees?” I asked. “Completely covered,” Wellings replied.
For more information about the LifeChoices program, visit the EHM website at www.ehmss.org. A free LifeChoices program information session is scheduled for October 25 at the Kensington Hotel. Registration is required and can be done online through the EHM website or by calling 734-295-9292.