WARRENTON - Walk in to the Clatsop County office of NorthWest Senior and Disability Services in Warrenton and you'll be greeted at the front desk by a friendly and knowledgeable office specialist like Lynn Perkins. Or by Shirley Olson, who's in the Experience Works program, learning office skills.
"It's the best thing that ever happened to me," said Olson. "I'm learning all kinds of programs. I'm supposed to look for a job, but I don't because I like it here."
Like Olson and Perkins, all of the staff members seem to reflect the upbeat atmosphere of the agency's new building at 2002 S.E. Chokeberry Ave. It's just a stone's throw from the county animal shelter and right next door to Clatsop Community Action's food warehouse, which is still under construction.
Grand opening for the new building was Jan. 28. Before that, the agency rented space in various locations, including Seaside, Astoria, and most recently in Gearhart, while looking for a more permanent home, said Carla DeLongchamps, services manager for the Warrenton office. The agency has offices in Clatsop, Marion, Polk, Tillamook and Yamhill counties. It's run by a board of directors consisting of one county commissioner from each of the five counties it serves.
For the last 10 years, the policy of Senior Services has been to invest rent payments into lease purchase arrangements that allow the agency to own the building after 15 years. DeLongchamps said that's the deal in place for the Warrenton office, which was built by Gearhart construction company owner Steve Olstedt.
The need for senior services is bound to increase. Over a million Oregon residents are Baby Boomers - people born from 1946 to 1964. The oldest are now turning 66, and they're living longer than ever before.
"Every day someone comes in for help," DeLongchamps said. The five main requests are for assistance with Medicaid, food stamps, adult protective services, help with daily living for disabled people and Older Americans Act programs. "We will tell them how to get help," DeLongchamps said.
She is proud that Oregon is one of the few states that choose to use Medicaid money to pay for community-based long-term care instead of just for nursing homes. Medicaid is a joint federal and state program that pays for medical assistance for individuals and families with low income and few resources.
"We (in Oregon) felt we could do it better and cheaper, so we got a waiver from the federal government," she explained. Keeping people in their own homes, with appropriate services, has improved their quality of life, while saving Oregon millions of dollars.
Determining whether a client qualifies financially for Medicaid is Jim Randall's job. He's one of the senior services agency's eligibility specialists. He said he looks at bank accounts, investments, houses and land as well as income.
"We don't want people kicked out of their home if it's their only asset. If they're able to live in their home, we're able to look at that resource after their death," Randall said, by turning the house over to the state Estates Administration, which sells it, then deducts the costs of care from the proceeds of the sale.
In-home care usually costs thousands of dollars less per month than nursing home care, Randall said. For example, he said, a person in a wheel chair might not need nursing care, just assistance getting into and out of the chair, a few hours a month of housekeeping and some personal care.
"Programs we have here have a really nice fit," Randall said. "They give people independence and pride - the dignity they deserve as they age."
Mark Acuna is one of three case managers at the Warrenton office. He has 140 clients, including 30 in assisted living facilities, 30 in nursing homes and 25 in adult foster care. All the rest are receiving care in their own homes.
When a person is referred to the agency or requests assistance, Acuna said a case worker goes to the person's home to do an assessment of his needs and establish a plan. An eligibility specialist looks at his finances to see if he qualifies for any programs.
Acuna said one his clients is a quadriplegic man who prefers to live in his Seaside apartment, where he can sit at his window and watch the ducks swimming in the river below. Two workers share his 24-hour a day care.
Acuna has three paraplegic clients and others who suffer from neurologic diseases or have brain injuries. Most need 60 to 100 hours of in-home care per month, but some are very needy and require as many as 150 to 200 hours, he said. "We point them toward our home care registry," he said. "They're the employer."
The clients interview caregivers on the list and can fire them if they don't work out. "They select them. We work out all the details," Acuna said. Case workers also do an annual assessment of clients to make sure their plan is working and adjust the hours if necessary.
The Home Care Commission of Oregon provides training for the caregivers, who are unionized and qualify for health benefits if they work more than 80 hours a month.
Many retirees in Clatsop County are not on Medicaid, DeLongchamps said.
They tend to access Older Americans Act programs, which are not restricted by income and which focus on nutrition and social services, including family care-giver support and senior peer-counseling for seniors age 60 and older and their caregivers, and SHIBA, the state health insurance program that helps people with Medicare.
The state-funded Oregon Project Independence provides up to 20 hours a month of personal care and housekeeping. It's based on need, not income, and currently has 30 participants.
In 2009, DeLongchamps reported to the Clatsop County Commission that the county had 89 disabled clients and 188 aging clients receiving services that included nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult foster homes and the home care program. Six-hundred aging clients and 829 disabled clients were provided food stamps and/or medical cards.
There are six assisted living facilities, two nursing homes and 13 to 17 adult foster homes in Clatsop County on agency's list of state-licensed facilities. "We have clients in all those," DeLongchamps said.
DeLongchamps is proud of her staff and the agency she works for. "I think it's great. A lot of people benefit from our programs," she said. "We do everything the rules let us give them."