Homecare is probably the fastest-growing but least-understood part of the healthcare system, and many family caregivers are thrust into providing support for their loved ones.
Calling “Ask Elizabeth” is a good first step.
“Ask Elizabeth” is a free caregiver support service offered by Saint Elizabeth Health Care in Ontario, a leading non-profit charitable health care company. “Elizabeth” is really Natalie Strouth, a nurse and information specialist at Saint Elizabeth, who has answered about 1,500 questions she’s received via phone and Saint Elizabeth’s website over the past two years.
Many of the questions Strouth fields come from family members of older adults. The top demographic is daughters between the ages of 55 and 64, who are trying to help their parents stay at home independently.
Typically, they’ll be looking for advice on how all the services and programs that are available apply to them, and for emotional support as they make difficult decisions about doing the best thing for their aging family members.
Strouth fields a wide variety of questions. She remembers the case of a 92-year-old with advanced Alzheimers, who developed a toothache. “He hadn’t been out of the house for two years, because it was so difficult to get him dressed, and too stressful. The caregiver wanted to know how to get it assessed without going to the emergency department or the dentist.”
Strouth arranged for a visit from a dental hygienist, who in turn found a dentist who made a house call.
My nursing background gives me an idea of what the reality is.
For most of the people asking questions, it’s their first involvement in the growing field of homecare. “They know a little, but not enough to understand the system or how to make decisions,” says Strouth. “We try to connect early on, so they have more choices and options.”
Strouth says there’s been a recent surge in calls from family members of patients who are about to be discharged from hospital. “Families are usually surprised about the scope of services available in the community.”
There are sometimes costs associated with receiving services at home, especially for 24-hour care. But there are options. Some Community Support Services are subsidized or free, there are providers like Saint Elizabeth that will supplement the publicly-funded services provided through the local CCACs, and foundations that offer free programs.
Strouth has 14 years’ experience as a nurse, so when people reach out to her, they’re not calling a customer service representative who’s reading from a manual. “My nursing background gives me an idea of what the reality is, and what we need to do to help.”
If you have a question for “Ask Elizabeth,” please call 1.855.Ask.Eliz (275.3549), or go to www.saintelizabeth.com, and click on the bubble in the bottom right corner of the page to chat live.