By Lauren Wanko
Sixty-four-year-old Robert Dickinson suffers from PTSD after serving in the Armed Forces. Gwen Hughes was in a coma for three months and Ann Robinson battles depression. They all live together, but not in a nursing home — in Denise Krueger’s home.
“I think that’s why I was put here, just to take care of people and it was just natural to take care of someone else,” Krueger said.
The Gloucester City resident is a caregiver with the Adult Family Care Program, launched in 1989. The state-run initiative places senior citizens or disabled adults into private homes to live with home care providers who are trained as health aids or certified nursing assistants.
“What it is, there are people who can no longer live alone, however they don’t want to or need to be in a nursing home or facility setting,” said Kathleen Silvagni, Adult Family Care Coordinator.
Senior Citizens United Community Services matches caregivers with clients — everything from hobbies to religion is considered. The participants must be Medicaid eligible and meet a certain income criteria or pay out of pocket. It costs about $2,400 a month. That includes room and board, a personal expense account for the client and payment to caregiver. The nonprofit insists it’s a huge savings for the state since a nursing home typically costs about $8,000 a month.
“If someone is eligible for Medicaid, the state then will through Medicaid pick up their nursing home cost so that’s how it’s a saving for the state,” said Senior Citizens United Community Services Executive Director Susan Romano.
Denise prepares three meals a day, folds laundry, cleans the rooms, gives clients their medication. Yesterday she colored Gwen’s hair.
“It’s a 24-hour a day job,” she said. When asked if she is exhausted, she said, “In the beginning it was like getting into a routine. Now it’s like I have three kids.”
Gwen and her friends were eager to show off their bedrooms — they each have their own. They share a bathroom and common area. At one point they were all in nursing homes.
Ann loves coming back here after spending a few hours at adult day care.
“I have a nice place to live. I have clean clothes every day,” Robert said.
Gwen lost both of her parents.
“I don’t have any family left,” she said. “It’s like being a new family and I like it very much.”
Denise has cared for 10 clients over the past 20 years. This is the most amount of participants she’s had at one time. Denise has come to rely on them as much as they rely on her.
“Well it’s just like if you had your parents with you,” she said.
Romano says the elderly population will continue to increase over the years.
“The projections for 85-plus by 2030 is going to exceed by 72 percent,” said Romano.
Which is why, she says, creating additional alternative housing for the elderly now is crucial.