Elderly Services Inc. marks 30 years of serving seniors

MIDDLEBURY — Former Project Independence Director Anne Ginevan harkened back to the launch of the senior day care program during the late 1970s.
The program — then run under the auspices of the Counseling Service of Addison County — provided basic recreational, nutritional and health care services to five elderly clients who gathered for around seven hours per day in the lower level of the Middlebury United Methodist Church.
Project Independence in those days had no budget; it was largely dependant on donations from clients and the community.
But Ginevan, who now resides in Florida, quickly recognized the service would catch on and become vital to an aging Vermont population.
“Even then, the need for (adult day care) was becoming more and more recognized,” recalled Ginevan, who would go on to serve Middlebury as a legislator and as longtime executive director of the United Way of Addison County.
Fast forward to 2011. Project Independence serves upwards of 70 clients per day and is but one among a variety of senior services offered in a state-of-the-art building at 112 Exchange St., owned and operated by Elderly Services Inc. (ESI), which this year is feting its 30th birthday.
“It is a dream come true to walk in every day and see people bathed in the beauty and sunlight of this center,” ESI Executive Director Joanne Corbett said on Monday as she reflected on how far the agency has come during its first three decades.
When Corbett took the reins of ESI in 1990, the organization had an annual budget of $180,000 and its overwhelming focus was on Project Independence, which was then serving a dozen clients in the Congregational Church of Middlebury’s Charter House.
Corbett was employee number 7.
Today, Elderly Services has 62 full- and part-time employees and an annual budget of $2 million, largely dependant on state and federal funds that support services aimed at keeping seniors healthy and at home for as long as possible, thereby avoiding more costly nursing home care.
Project Independence is still at the heart of Elderly Services, though the agency has branched out into:
•  Elder care counseling, to help families craft the best care option for aging parents or grandparents.
•  Geriatric needs evaluation, to determine the scope of clients’ needs.
•  Geriatric mental health counseling.
•  An aging education center, through which Elderly Services officials offer seminars and talks about the aging process and how to remain fulfilled post-retirement.
•  The ESI College of Lifelong Learning. Taught by community members with special expertise and Middlebury College professions, the ESI college gives area seniors an opportunity to remain intellectually engaged in such subjects as history, politics, foreign languages and cooking.
ESI college gets between 65 and 125 students per term.
“It is a good social and instructional structure for people who are retired. But who want to keep growing their brains,” Corbett said.
It is programs like Project Independence and the ESI college that help seniors break away from the more sedentary habits — such as television viewing — that retirees sometimes adopt after they’ve left the workforce, Corbett explained.
“We want (seniors) to get out, to be part of a peer group,” Corbett said.
Back in the early years, Elderly Services had a couple of vans to help participants with transportation. Now the organization has 14 vehicles — most with lift equipment — that run a half-dozen routes every day to collect clients who would otherwise spend the day at home.
Once on-site, seniors have access to plenty of medical services, with Porter Hospital nearby. Two full-time registered nurses and four licensed nursing assistants make sure clients receive their medications on time, as well as treatment for asthma, diabetes and other ailments common among the elderly. Patients are taken to doctor’s appointments during the day.
“It enables people to live at home who may have had a stroke, or emphysema,” Corbett said.
Elderly Services now runs a 12-hour day, during which clients can have access to breakfast, lunch and dinner. This, in turn, relieves pressure on families who would otherwise have to work more caregiving into their respective work schedules.
“I have had many families say, ‘If I didn’t have this 10-hour day, I wouldn’t be able to have my mother at home,’” Corbett said.
Project Independence of course can no longer be floated on donations like it was during the late 1970s. The current charge is $15 per hour, though 75 percent of participants receive subsidies through the Veterans Administration, Medicaid or other federal/ state programs. Roughly one-third of the remaining 25 percent of Project Independence clients receive scholarship assistance based on need, according to Corbett.
While the federal government has historically supported Elderly Services programs and seen them as cost-savers in the long run, the organization has not been immune to the recent budget crunch. Corbett noted the federal government recently froze a large part of its funding for Elderly Services programs for an 18-month period, forcing the organization to pare back its budget. The federal freeze was lifted two months ago, and Project Independence enrollment is again starting to rise, Corbett noted.
“Given the government financing situation … we feel we are going to have to work harder to keep our private fee affordable,” Corbett said. “I think the federal government will be able to help people less during the next decade.”
And the demand for elder care services will only get stronger during the coming years. Vermont has one of the most senior populations in the union, and it is getting grayer. Addison County is already home to one retirement community (The Lodge at Otter Creek), with another currently under construction (Eastview at Middlebury).
In spite of all the challenges, Corbett is looking forward to another decade of prosperity and growth for Elderly Services. She believes, for example, that Project Independence could grow by another 50 percent based on the county’s demographics.
“Addison County is full of elderly people who may be alone, bored and down,” she said. “We want to find those people during the next 10 years.”
Elderly Services alumni are confident the organization will be up to the task.
Gloria Bertrand was the first executive director of Elderly Services. She transitioned into the job from her post as leader of the Addison County Retired Senior Volunteer Program. Still living in Whiting, Bertrand is pleased to see how far Elderly Services has come.
“I think it is working wonderfully,” she said.
Bill Collins, 91, served on Elderly Services’ first board of directors in the early 1980s. He became a client two years ago, before relocating recently to Iowa to be with his son.
Michelle Hadeka was the first nurse hired by Elderly Services. She continues to work in the health care field with Addison County Home Health & Hospice. Hadeka recalled helping Project Independence’s five clients during the early years.
“It was very exciting to be involved with something new like Project Independence,” Hadeka said. “I can’t tell you how happy I am that 30 years later, it’s still here.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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