May 3, 2004
The Grand Rapids Press
Mary Tassell misses the ducks that sat under the willow tree at her Camp Lake home, and the pair of swans that always hatched at least six cygnets every spring.
The 69-year-old Sparta woman will be back home, watching them from her own deck by the end of the month thanks to a pilot program that helps people get out of nursing homes.
Tassell had a stroke a year ago that paralyzed her left side. She has worked hard in rehabilitation, first at Mary Free Bed Hospital &Rehabilitation Center and then for almost a year at Spectrum Health Kent Community Campus.
She never gave up on going home. In fact, her ironing board is right where she left it the day she was stricken, and so is the quilt she spread out on the dining room table ready to tie.
"I always wanted to go home, but I didn't know if it would be possible," said Tassell, who can't wait to sleep in her own bed.
Tassell is one of 13 people in long-term care facilities who are leaving their cramped institutional bedrooms and living more independently.
They were assisted by a pilot program in Kent County and the Detroit area called Nursing Facility Transition Initiative. It's shortened to NFTI, which sounds like nifty. And those who have been helped since the program began at the Area Agency on Aging in January say it is nifty indeed.
Tim Graham, 54, said he looks forward to privacy and to being able to make phone calls when he moves into a downtown apartment this month. Disabled by multiple sclerosis since 1990, he has been in a four-man room at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans for 11 months.
"I'm one of the youngest ones here. Hopefully I'll have another 10 years before I can't live on my own," said Graham, formerly of Ortonville in Oakland County.
Joyce Englebert is making all the arrangements for Tassell and Graham. She is the NFTI coordinator for the Area Agency on Aging in West Michigan. Englebert is a veteran, having worked in a similar state program before funding dried up.
She gets them whatever they need, including in-home caregivers and housekeeping help. She locates apartments, turns on utilities and even shops for household goods.
NFTI is backed by a one-year state grant, by senior millage dollars in Kent County, and by state Medicaid waiver programs that provide in-home help, Englebert said.
"I think everybody realizes how important it is for people to live in their own homes. And it's also cheaper," Englebert said.
The average cost of a Medicaid-funded nursing home is $120 a day. Two of the 13 people Englebert has relocated have gone to adult foster care, which averages $50 a day if you pay out of pocket and about $30 a day for those on assistance. Others have returned to their own homes or to apartments.
Most in the program qualify for subsidized housing, Englebert said.
"One of the main issues when people come out of nursing homes is where they are going to live," Englebert said.
Most are Medicaid recipients who already have sold their homes and used up their assets, she said.
Graham, who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, will pay a reduced rent. Englebert has also lined up six caregivers who will help him with housekeeping and personal care.
Home Repair Services in Grand Rapids has put up hand rails at Tassell's house to help her get around, and they made her bathroom more accessible.
Englebert figures the program already has proven itself, and she hopes
the state will agree to renew the NFTI program at the end of the year.
She is working on 14 more cases and will probably have to ask the state
for more Medicaid waiver slots.
Copyright © 2004, The Grand Rapids Press