Vermont seniors benefit from spectrum of services; Green Mountain state wins national award

MIDDLEBURY — Diane Whitney, 70, worked in health care for 26 years before retiring a couple of years ago and moving into the Middlebury Commons.
“My body is (still) not used to the down time,” she said with a laugh.
To keep active, Whitney has been going to the Project Independence Adult Day Center on most weekdays. Around 9 a.m., she arrives at the center run by Elderly Services via one of the 10 designated vans. There she enjoys meals, participates in a wide range of activities, or simply hangs out with some friends and puppies before heading home at 2 p.m.
Whitney is one of the many seniors in Vermont who benefit from a wide array of services and support. The state’s achievement was recognized by a Pacesetter Prize for Affordability and Access in August, an inaugural award created “to honor states making significant progress in improving long-term services and supports (LTSS) for older adults, people with disabilities and, family caregivers.”
The SCAN Foundation, an independent public charity, utilizes data from a LTSS State Scorecard, which measures states’ performance. The data showed that Vermont has made significant improvement in affordability and access, as well as in its overall performance, moving up to No. 3 nationally from No. 19 and No. 20 respectively in the past six years.
“The award is really indicative of a great team effort across all of the partners that we have through all the dimensions of the system,” said Monica White, Director of Operations at the State Department of Disabilities, Aging and Independent Living (DAIL). “So it’s really a collaborative effort and we are grateful for everyone’s support.”
Elderly Services is a close partner of DAIL. With the motto “getting out is good for you,” the organization specializes in providing community-based out-of-home services for seniors at their Project Independence Adult Day Center. Since its founding 37 years ago, the center has seen the number of participants rise from 12 to 80-85 elderly individuals daily.
“All the gerontology studies back up the importance of getting elderly people out of their four walls and into community settings to provide new social stimulation and helpful physical movement,” said Joanne Corbett, executive director of Elderly Services.
 Whitney started attending Project Independence at a relatively young age. “It’s just everybody will be familiar with me. When I start having behavior problems, you will know the difference,” she said with her trademark sense of humor.
Dick Keesler has also been participating in the program for three years. Like Whitney, he appreciates the loving staff. “They are all very upbeat and positive about everything,” said Keesler. The 80-year-old retired farm worker enjoys playing games and sports at the center, but also spends a lot of time on woodworking projects at home, including making his own canes. On the weekends, he prefers to be with his family.
The statewide Choices for Care program has allowed senior residents to stay home with confidence. Started in 2005, the program enables Vermonters to choose where they want to receive their long-term services. An increasing number of participants are choosing to remain in home and community-based settings instead of nursing facilities, with the rate rising from 49% to 54% between 2011 and 2015.
Age Well is a leading provider of Choices for Care in partnership with DAIL. The nonprofit organization serves Addison, Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle Counties. Like DAIL, Age Well recognizes the large demand for in-home support for seniors. The traditional services that they provide, such as Meals on Wheels that deliver healthy meals to residents, aim to help seniors stay independent and healthy at home.
For Age Well’s CEO John Michael Hall, who has been working in the field for almost 40 years, aging has come to have different meanings over the past few decades. The average age of seniors receiving services today has risen in the past years from the late-60s to their 80s. If you ask Vermonters in their sixties, Hall said, they would hardly consider themselves as seniors. Meanwhile, Hall also sees many retired people who still remain very active and who have different expectations.

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