Lucia Bodenheimer found support in caring for her husband, Tony, through the Family Caregiver Support Program. Photo by Jerome Pollos.

By Dana E. Neuts

Last year, Lucia Bodenheimer’s husband was diagnosed with the early stages of dementia. A friend referred her to Elder Services, part of the statewide Family Caregiver Support Program.

Bodenheimer, 78, of Spokane, now attends twice-monthly meetings to discuss concerns and get support from fellow caregivers.

“I found myself in a situation I knew nothing about,” she said. “I felt like I was drowning and I needed a life jacket. This supplied that life jacket with a lot of knowledge, and I’m healthier because of it.”

Through Elder Services, Bodenheimer has access to a case manager and a host of resources, including a six-week course where she learned problem-solving techniques, like how to handle specific situations and not to take things personally or blame herself.

“I learned that I am important, and my emotional and mental health are also important,” she said. “My advice is, you are not alone in this, and the only way to help yourself is to seek help and be open-minded about it.”

This program is one of the factors that made Washington the top-ranked state in the 2017 Long-Term Services and Supports State Scorecard, compiled by the AARP Public Policy Institute, the Commonwealth Fund and the SCAN Foundation.

During the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2016, the Family Caregiver Support Program helped 12,751 caregivers like Bodenheimer, including 3,419 who received a comprehensive assessment to identify what types of services they needed, such as counseling, support groups, caregiver training and respite care.

Another area in which Washington ranks high is choice of care setting and provider. Eighty-five percent of long-term care occurs in home- and community-based settings (65 and 20 percent, respectively), while 15 percent occurs in nursing homes.

‘No wrong door’
One reason for that success is the state’s Community Living Connections (CLC) program, which is part of the federal Aging and Disability Resource Center’s No Wrong Door initiative. No matter whom consumers call for information or resources, they will get help.

Available online and directly through partner agencies, CLC is a network of state and community organizations that provide residents with access to private-pay and publicly funded long-term services and support options.

Choice and flexibility are critical for person-centered care, said Lynn Kimball, executive director of Aging & Long Term Care of Eastern Washington.CLC plays an important role in informing people of the care options and resources available.

“Home care isn’t the right choice for everyone. Sometimes it is an adult family home, assisted living or home care through a family member or agency,” Kimball said. “A lot of choice still rests with individuals and who they want to provide their care.”

Kimball said prioritizing home and community-based settings for long-term services and supports has led to $4.4 billion in savings for the state and federal government over the last 18 years, savings that are reinvested into the development of additional resources. But saving money isn’t the only goal, said Kimball. “It’s the right thing to do.”

Bill Moss, assistant secretary for the state Aging and Long-Term Support Administration, said Washington has worked to provide a strong network of resources for the past two decades.

“Washington’s success is about having a vision to serve people in the community setting of their choice, and that vision drives everything we do,” Moss said.

Though Washington is currently ranked #1, Cathleen MacCaul, advocacy director for AARP Washington, said the state can’t rest on its laurels. “Washington state realizes, in order to continue to do well in providing long-term supports and services in the future, we must continue to improve existing programs and seek out new, innovative solutions.”

Dana E. Neuts is a freelance writer based in Seattle.

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