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Caring for the elderly

Daylong program at The Oaks helps poor, frail seniors

By Jessica Connor

ORANGEBURG—For 79-year-old Carrie Lee Jones, coming to PACE at The Oaks is a lifeline.

I don t have to sit in the house all day by myself,  said Jones, who has no close relatives and doesn t like to drive because it makes her nervous.  It gives me a chance to visit with people and do therapy. 

Unlike when she is at home, where she tends to watch TV all day, at PACE she can pop from friend to friend, play games like bingo or pitty pat, do weights, or hop on the new step bicycle.

I look forward to it every day,  she said.

Five days a week, Jones and 127 other seniors are able to spend their days in the holistic environment of PACE (Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly), a day center operated by United Methodist home The Oaks in Orangeburg. The center delivers all types of care participants require, all in one place: medical services, transportation, meals, activities, physical therapy, devotions and other spiritual support. And at night, they are able to return to their homes “ and often their family.

It s an adult day center on steroids,  said the Rev. James McGee, The Oaks chief executive officer, ticking off the many services and activities PACE provides. Whatever their needs are, we pay for it. 

Many times, McGee said, older adults who suffer from medical issues like dementia, cancer, muscle problems and other debilitating conditions would need to be in skilled nursing centers, or require round-the-clock care by family members who often don t have the time or training needed. Because of PACE, which is Medicaid-funded with support from The Oaks Resident Assistance Program, they are able to remain in their home and keep their Social Security income “ a win-win for everyone.

It s a neat program,  McGee said.

And in an area like Orangeburg, it is also critically needed, said Andy Cox, The Oaks director of development. Cox said Orangeburg County is in the top 10 percent in the nation for poverty, and serving the poor and medically frail elderly there is both a ministry and a necessity.

There s a huge need for it,  Cox said.

Norris Sauls, 76, has cancer and a muscle disease; he has been coming to PACE for three years.

It gives me a chance to get out and do things I wouldn t ordinarily do at home,  Sauls said “ like physical therapy, or just sitting and chatting with friends. It s a home away from home. 

Indeed, the socialization these seniors receive at PACE is an integral component. Lack of socialization is perhaps the most damaging issue seniors face, McGee said “ it s worse for the body than even smoking. But being around other people, particularly in a setting that can also provide therapy and medical care, can help people thrive. He has seen withered, depressed people bounce back in days simply by being around others.

There are people there to talk and fellowship with,  McGee said, noting that while there is no overtly spiritual angle, there are daily devotions, a chaplain and Bible study, all of which minister to the spirit, the psyche and, ultimately, the body.

Loretta Rayfield, PACE intake and marketing coordinator, said she has seen firsthand how the environment can transform people. One woman cried every day; now she never wants to leave. Another woman has no family and considers the friends and staff at PACE her kin.

One lady thinks she works here, and every day we have to pretend to clock her in and out,  Rayfield said, smiling. They love it here. 

Participants each have their own cubby, with a change of clothing in case of spills or accidents. They arrive at staggered times between 7 a.m. and noon, and leave between 1 and 5 p.m.

Mornings are spent with coffee or hot chocolate while the newspaper is read to them. Then they split off into groups for exercise, nurse visits, therapy or activities “ everything from karaoke or fitness games on the Wii to sewing or puzzles. Once a week, there s even a nail shop for manicures and other pampering services.

Rayfield said spending their days at PACE is not only good for the participants, but also their caregivers at home, who often work full-time and, before PACE, had to ferry their loved ones to doctor visits, bathe them, feed them, and more.

Now, they don t get caregiver burnout,  Rayfield said.

For more information about how to help The Oaks continue their elder care ministry through PACE and other programs, visit www.theoakssc.com.

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