2015-11-17 / Front Page

Discussion Focuses On Need To Establish Advocacy Program For Local Seniors And Incapacitated Adults

by Michael Stanley
Staff Writer


Individuals interested in learning more about the effort to begin a local volunteer advocacy program for senior citizens and incapacitated adults recently gathered at the Law Offices of Hickam and Lorenz in Spencer. Pictured are, left to right: Clay Township Trustee Roger Daniel, Owen County Family YMCA CEO Darrell White, Area 10 Agency on Aging Executive Director Kerry Conway, senior pastor Charlie Townsend, Morgan Owens and associate pastor James Owens of The Connection, Owen County Community Foundation President and CEO Mark Rogers, and Area 10 Agency on Aging Cochair Nancy Lorenz. Not pictured: Gordon Wells and Richard Lorenz. (Staff Photo) Individuals interested in learning more about the effort to begin a local volunteer advocacy program for senior citizens and incapacitated adults recently gathered at the Law Offices of Hickam and Lorenz in Spencer. Pictured are, left to right: Clay Township Trustee Roger Daniel, Owen County Family YMCA CEO Darrell White, Area 10 Agency on Aging Executive Director Kerry Conway, senior pastor Charlie Townsend, Morgan Owens and associate pastor James Owens of The Connection, Owen County Community Foundation President and CEO Mark Rogers, and Area 10 Agency on Aging Cochair Nancy Lorenz. Not pictured: Gordon Wells and Richard Lorenz. (Staff Photo) Individuals interested in learning more about the growing need to establish a local volunteer advocacy program for senior citizens and incapacitated adults recently gathered at the Law Offices of Hickam and Lorenz in Spencer.

The Volunteer Advocates for Seniors and Incapacitated Adults (VASIA) program is dedicated to serving and safeguarding the healthcare, social service, and legal protection needs of seniors and incapacitated adults. The program provides trained and supervised volunteers to serve as court-appointed limited guardians to assist this vulnerable population and the courts in decision-making regarding critical needs.

Those involved envision the program serving the community’s seniors and incapacitated adults similar to how the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) program benefits our community’s children.

“Just like CASA, we do have an official guardian of the adult, who is an employee of Area 10 and a na- tionally-certified guardian,” Area 10 Agency on Aging Executive Director Kerry Conway said. “The volunteer advocates are the ones who go to care plan meetings, help make decisions about medical care, and make decisions about how discretionary funds are or aren’t spent.”

Owen County Circuit Court I Judge Lori Thatcher Quillen, who formed Owen County’s CASA program in 2004 to protect the county’s abused and neglected children, is one of the many lending her support to the establishment of a local VASIA program.

“I now see the same need for a similar program to protect the needs and best interests of our seniors and incapacitated adults. The VASIA program would ensure that our senior citizens and incapacitated adults are not being financially and or physically abused or neglected,” Thatcher Quillen said. “I have seen too many cases recently where family members or friends are putting their needs above those of the individual they are requesting to serve. I know how important my grandparents were too me and I want to guarantee that every senior citizen or incapacitated adult is treated with fairness and dignity regarding their life decisions. We all owe a duty to this community to help those members that can no longer help themselves. The VASIA program is a way to help meet that duty. I hope everyone will join us in trying to start this program as soon as possible in Owen County.”

Area 10 Agency on Aging Cochair Nancy Lorenz and Conway led the recent discussion, which also involved Gordon Wells, Owen County Family YMCA Executive Director Darrell White, Owen County Community Foundation President and CEO Mark Rogers, Clay Township Trustee Roger Daniel, along with senior pastor Charlie Townsend and associate pastor James Owens of The Connection church.

“Every five years, Area 10 agencies around the country are mandated to do a survey of need in communities and we did that in May of 2013 in Monroe and Owen counties,” Conway explained. “One of the needs that percolated up quickly was that we have no systemic way of dealing with incapacitated adults who can no longer make decisions or care for themselves. We have a very antiquated system called Adult Protective Services that operates out of prosecuting attorney offices. We are lucky in that the region that serves Monroe and Owen counties, Region 10, is relatively progressive in the work they do. So when they get a call about an older adult or a person with developmental disabilities who is experiencing difficulty, they immediately investigate. Adult Protective Services is kind of a misnomer, because they have no services to offer so they always end up calling us (Area 10).”

Conway also touched on the current inability of the two counties to meet individual’s long-term needs.

“They either have no family member who can step in and care for that adult, or the family member who has stepped in has done so in a way that is inappropriate and damaging to the adult, which is far too common,” she explained. “We got a call three years ago about an adult with developmental disabilities who was living at home with an aging parent. That aging parent basically fell, broke a hip, and was admitted to the hospital. They went down hill quickly and were transferred to a nursing home for a permanent placement. In the meantime, you have this adult with developmental disabilities living in a home and nothing was set up to care for them. We really struggled with that case and we ended up finding a local attorney who agreed on a pro bono basis to be the guardian, but these cases are coming up a lot.”

She said the issue tends to become generational. Having served as a foster parent and a CASA for several years, Conway has seen a pattern of abuse and neglect in entire families.

“There is a way to break that cycle and allow people to age with grace and dignity. That’s basically just putting a set of eyes on someone,” she said. “With this program, on a monthly basis all financial planning is done, and all of the care conferences or any medical appointments are attended by the volunteer. There is a narrative accounting, plus a physical accounting to the court every month. It’s an important program that has a profound impact on the quality of life of the people served by this program.”

She said the Monroe County program has been implemented slowly in 2015, with state and nationally accredited and trained volunteers with a goal to begin serving five to 10 individuals in January of next year. She said for the first year, two volunteers will work with one client.

“Our capacity with one program manager is probably going to be 40 people and for those 40 people, it is literally the difference between a life and death,” Conway noted.

She noted the effort to begin a similar program in Owen County could receive a $38,500 boost in the form of an Indiana Supreme Court grant. Those funds, though, require a 50 percent local match, or $18,000, of which 50 percent can be in-kind donations. That portion has been pledged with the help of the Spencer Christian Church, which has offered to provide office space and telephone service for the VASIA office. The in-kind donation will go along with a pledge of $1,000 each from BBP Water Corporation and Sweet Owen Industries Arc. Conway said that leaves $7,000 to be raised by the community.

She also noted multiple grant application opportunities, the next coming on December 29, 2015.

Conway said fund pledges can be provided in writing, or monetary contributions can be sent to Area 10 Agency on Aging, 631 West Edgewood Drive, Ellettsville, IN 47429. Include Owen County VASIA program on the check’s memo line.

While the initial funds would cover operating costs for the first year, additional funds would need to be raised to continue the program for additional years. Conway and Lorenz both noted the program would need a minimum commitment of two years to fully gauge its impact. Conway estimates an annual cost of $9,000 to fund the program.

The next step is to formulate fund-raising options and to find volunteers. Conway said the training involves between 15 and 20 hours and can be completed during evening hours and on weekends. The program would also require a 12- to 15-member advisory council.

“I’m not worried about volunteers because people in Owen County have big hearts and willing hands,” she said.

Clients are selected by the courts, primarily through Adult Protective Services or other forms of referral. There is no cost to the individual for the service.

The long-term goal, she said, would be VASIA and CASA to merge and form an Owen County Advocacy Center.

“It’s the same program so why duplicate the administrative structure? Within three to five years, I would love to see this transition into a combined operation,” Conway said. “This is a huge emergent issue. If I see a senior being abused, there is no one to call who can do anything, who has any legal power to do anything and that to me is critical, we should have it in every county.”

For more information, contact Conway by calling the Area 10 agency on Aging in Ellettsville, 812-876- 3383.

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