LACONIA — "Food and music is what we need for our Fred. He loves music and has a wonderful voice," remarked Phyllis Mecheski, who cares for her partner, Fred Davidson, around the clock. "I keep him at home and I keep the home."
Mecheski, who worked at the Laconia Senior Center for seven years, said that despite her experience she would be challenged to cope but for help she has received through ServiceLink. For the past 15 years Service Link has provided senior citizens as well as adults with disabilities and chronic illness with the information, referrals and assistance to navigate the health care and social service systems and secure the services enabling them to remain in their homes.
But, the budget adopted last week by the New Hampshire House of Representatives has cast a shadow over the future of ServiceLink. The House stripped the $1,336,000 the state contributes to operate the program from the 2016-2017 budget, without which $1,907,000 in federal funding would be foregone, scuttling the program altogether.
Janet Hunt, executive director of ServiceLink for Belknap and Carroll counties, said that her team of seven fielded nearly 6,000 calls for assistance in 2014.
During the next 15 years the number of those older than 65 are projected to increase to more than a third of the population in Belknap County and to nearly half the population of Carroll County. Lisa Morris of the Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health, Inc., which counts ServiceLink among its partners, stressed that the program enables a significant share of the aged population to live at home, sparing the high cost of nursing home care — currently about $230 per day — primarily funded by Medicaid.
"ServiceLink is a treasure trove of information," Mecheski said. "The maze you have to go through in the health care system is very challenging. They help you reach the right person and fill out the application forms, which can be hard even for a person who is educated." At the same time, she noted that caring for an infirm adult and maintaining a household "takes so much out of you that you need help." Through ServiceLink she said she was able to secure help with care and chores, which gives her "a chance to relax and do the paperwork. I have a sense of relief when they're there," she added.
Boyuan Fang, who retired after working as a custodian at LRGHealthcare, confessed he struggled with English as a second language. "I'm Chinese," he said, "but with ServiceLink it I can talk to them in person. They are helpful and so patient," he laughed. "they don't want me to do anything. They do everything for me." He said that when his wife, Chongjie Guo, required medical care and he was billed $200,000, the staff at ServiceLink spared the couple financial ruin.
When Gerald Kinight's wife was stricken with Crohn's disease and required round-the-clock care, he said that he was unaware of ServiceLink. "I was overwhelmed, at my wit's end," he recalled. Then he contacted the New Hampshire Family Caregivers Program that funded three hours of respite care each week. "It was truly a godsend for me," he said. "I had time to do the grocery shopping and pay the bills."
Ken Young, who encountered ServiceLink when he and wife became overwhelmed caring for her mother, and Bob Franks both volunteered for the Meals on Wheels program in the Lakes Region. They said that in the course of delivering meals to senior citizens living at home, often by themselves, they frequently came across people in need of assistance. "ServiceLink is the solution," Young said.
Franks admitted that while the younger generation can tackle its problems through the Internet, "we want to talk to somebody and the only people you can talk to is ServiceLink. Take all the problems everywhere I went with Meals on Wheels, people in dire need of help," he continued. "Call ServiceLink! How can you beat that? It didn't cost them a dime." He said that the program speaks directly to the issues and facing individuals. "It's the answer to the problems of seniors," he remarked.
Morris explained that ServiceLink emerged from a series of conversations throughout the state about the challenges facing older adults, at which the vast majority highlighted the difficulty of navigating the health care and social service systems. At the same time, there was mounting concern at the high cost of long-term care and growing preference for supporting the elderly in the least restrictive and expensive environment — their homes.ServiceLink was established as a kind of brokerage to enable seniors to draw on the services they required to maintain optimal Independence.
With number of seniors rising more rapidly now than 15 years ago, Morris said that ServiceLink is more necessary today than it was then.
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