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Personalized service for seniors

When Thomas Mann's father, Charles Mann, started edging toward 90, Thomas and his four siblings began to notice a general physical and mental decline. It wasn't easy to keep tabs on their dad — he lives in Medford and they all live far away. And their dad is of that "stoic generation" that keeps information close to the vest.

Add to this Charles' wife, Maria Luisa Mann, who is a naturalized U.S. citizen about 15 years younger than her husband. A very active community volunteer who has the physical strength and emotional desire to continue to care for her husband, Luisa (as she's called by the family) isn't fluent in English. She often runs into confusing circumstances when dealing with the myriad services — social, legal, financial, medical — that her husband is needing more frequently.

Aware that their father and Luisa didn't want to leave the Medford home they built 20 years ago or give up their established lifestyle to move in with one of the kids, Thomas Mann and his brothers and sister convened via conference call.

"That's when my sister said she'd heard of something called geriatric care managers," recalls Mann from his Aptos, Calif., home. "We found the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers Web site then started to look for case managers in Medford."

Almost two years ago Charles Mann's children hired Ellen Waldman, a geriatric care manager (GCM) who owns Senior Options in Ashland. Over time, Waldman has gotten to know the Manns and now regularly communicates their changes, needs and worries to the children. She also uses a vast resource bank to coordinate the senior services necessary to the Manns' well-being and comfort.

"I think both he and Luisa appreciate it," says Thomas Mann of Waldman's services. "Selling their house and moving them would have been far more damaging to their health. Figuring out a way they can live their life the way they are is a much better way to go and puts them in control of making decisions."

With an average of 20 clients located all over the Rogue Valley, Waldman is one of five GCMs in the area who are members of the National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers (NAPGCM). These professionals provide assistance and services to adults 65 and older by developing a long-standing and personal relationship with clients and their families.

"The goal of a GCM is help families cope with the challenges of aging," Waldman explains. "What seems like an overwhelming situation to families can be navigated efficiently by a GCM — we have special expertise in the phases and tasks of care management, respond to clients' needs and are also proactive, advocating for our clients' at any turn."

Not to be confused with a primary caregiver, GCMs act more as a "grand arranger." He or she provides on-site visits to clients, gathers information, coordinates meetings and communicates with the client's entire team, including attorneys, financial managers, doctors and family members.

All members of NAPGCM must have a master's degree in a field of human services like social work, nursing, psychology, counseling or gerontology. This affords them educational and professional insight into the needs of both aging clients and the agencies that start to dominate their clients' lives.

"Think of us as a personal service provider," Waldman says, listing specific services that all GCM's perform. "One is comprehensive assessment of the older person and their situation. Two is written care plans, providing solutions to problems. Three is implementation and coordination of all services needed. And four is monitoring the situation for however long it's needed."

Many GCMs also offer family or individual counseling and/or consulting, financial management and guardianship and conservatorship.

With rates in the Rogue Valley that range from $55 to $75 an hour, geriatric care management is far from cost-free.

But such services can pay for themselves through saved costs in caregiving, travel and missed work and will become more and more valuable as the area's population gets older, says Linda Bellinson, MSW, of Senior Options.

"If the Rogue Valley continues to be a destination for retirees, I feel the need for GCMs will continue to increase," says Bellinson. "In more major cities, more professionals and social services are very familiar with GCM. But in our smaller, more rural area, there's a lack of knowledge about our profession. Our challenge is getting the word out."

If GCM were covered under insurance, that would help, she says. So far, the service is private pay only, mostly paid for by adult children of seniors in need. The NAPGCM is lobbying to change this.

"We're trying hard to enhance our availability on a broader base," Bellinson says. "We believe it should be treated just like when you go to the doctor — you pay a co-pay for services based on need."

Jennifer Strange is a freelance writer living in Central Point. Reach her at jlstrange@hotmail.com.

Geriatric care manager Ellen Waldman, left, laughs with client Gerry Shangler, 84, during a visit at the Rogue Valley Manor. - Denise Baratta