When the whole family needs help: Jewish Family Service of St. Paul’s Senior Advocacy Services offers a variety of resources and support

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If you live out of state and your aging parents require additional services, where do you turn? If there is dissension among family members about healthcare roles and responsibilities, who can you talk to?

Jewish Family Service of St. Paul’s Senior Advocacy Services is a program that helps older adults and their families make the important decisions that accompany the aging process. A dedicated team of nurses, social workers and mental health professionals — some of whom are bilingual — are available to consult with families and provide ongoing care management.

“Because families used to live closer together, there wasn’t as much need for this type of services as there is now,” said social worker Chris Rosenthal, the director of senior services for JFS. “And for adult children who live right here by their parents, they’re often overwhelmed, too. They may be taking care of their own kids, their parents have needs, the system seems very confusing and complex. That’s where we can help.”

JFS’ Senior Advocacy Services provides assistance in two different ways. Both are available on a sliding fee scale, though no one will be turned away for inability to pay.

Registered nurse Esther Winthop (left) and social worker Chris Rosenthal work to personalize services for clients and their families. (Photo: Mordecai Specktor)

The first is a one-time family consultation with JFS professionals that assesses an older adult’s situation and determines the best options for care. Clients receive written copies of the staff’s recommendations and follow-up phone calls.

“Sometimes all people need is a chance to sit down and talk through a situation, get the information they need, get the resources they need, and they can take all that information and go with it,” Rosenthal said.

For those who need more than a one-time consultation, families can receive ongoing care management services in which JFS staff works with a client for as long as the need is present. Staff will provide a comprehensive in-home assessment of the older adult to determine their needs — including physical, social and psychological — and develop a plan of care with the client, family members and healthcare providers.

“There’s certain things in our lives that we have to do that are so routine: we have to eat, we have to take care of ourselves, we have to bathe. But whatever the problems are, whether they are psychological or physical, we need support,” said registered nurse Esther Winthrop, a JFS care manager. “Sometimes it’s either the client you support or it’s the caregiver that you support… and to tell you the truth, I’m not even sure who needs it more.”

JFS care managers, like Winthrop, also communicate with out-of-town family members and serve as an advocate for the client no matter where they are receiving care — at home, in a hospital or transitional care unit, or at a long-term care facility.

“Especially for people that don’t have anybody, that don’t have a daughter or a son, then they need somebody,” Winthrop said.

JFS staff work hard to help clients and their families understand what is happening and how to navigate the complicated healthcare system, including providing information about Social Security, Medicare and prescription drug coverage, among other things.

“It’s difficult for people to understand and to pull all that information together,” Rosenthal said. “That’s our role, too, to translate what’s being said and what that means, what that looks like for people.”

And, in addition to healthcare services, JFS can help families locate other appropriate resources — from finding someone to take over the client’s finances to making arrangements to move to assisted living. For example, JFS can refer a family to Gentle Transitions, an Edina-based company that specializes in senior move management. Their move managers coordinate the daunting task of packing and moving a household.

Additionally, JFS’ Senior Advocacy Services can help to identify issues that may be impeding an important decision or alleviate tensions among family members.

“Sometimes it’s just getting people to sit down and talk,” Rosenthal said. “And we can be objective where sometimes family members can’t. Because it’s hard when it’s your own family.”

JFS has been serving the St. Paul community for 100 years and has always provided these types of services — its Senior Advocacy Services program is now more formalized and comprehensive. Fees are affordable and help to offset the costs associated with providing the services.

“Certainly the expertise has always been there,” Rosenthal said.

“We do a knowledgeable, caring, thorough job,” added Winthrop.

For information about Jewish Family Service of St. Paul’s Senior Advocacy Services, call 651-698-0767 or visit: www.jfssp.org.