Story by Beth Donze, Clarion Herald
Photos courtesy Christopher Homes, Inc.
With the ins and outs of Medicare making the eyes of even their adult children glaze over, the 345 seniors who live at Wynhoven Apartments in Marrero see Natasha Baxter as a godsend when it comes to explaining the nuances embedded in the infamous “Parts A, B, C and D.”
“That can be quite confusing when you’re going to the doctor and not knowing what is covered under each section,” said Baxter, Wynhoven’s service coordinator since 2016.
“It’s our duty to explain to them how their Medicare works and how their Medicare works with Medicaid, because you can’t have both,” Baxter added. “During open enrollment time I have all of the Medicare insurances in to host a seminar to educate the residents about all the plans that are out there, because not all of them are created equal.”
Doing everything they can to help residents maintain their independence for as long as possible is the job of Baxter and her fellow service coordinators employed by Christopher Homes, Inc. (CHI), the archdiocesan entity that provides dignified and affordable housing for seniors at 21 apartment complexes across the metro area.
The service coordinators’ hats include being advocates and case managers for residents as they navigate their medical, mental health and rehabilitative services. For example, they reach out to Long Term-Personal Care Attendant Services, a Louisiana Medicaid program, which can provide eligible residents with an in-home aide for up to 52 hours a week.
The service coordinators also make sure residents are carrying out the activities of daily living (ADL), such as housekeeping, bathing and laundry.
“We do have some residents who, as they become ill or as they age, their ability to perform those tasks starts to decline,” Baxter said.
Baxter organizes at least one educational event at Wynhoven each month, addressing concerns such as fall prevention, nutrition and dementia. Last August, some two dozen vendors attended the residence’s health fair. Baxter mounted a smaller health fair earlier this month, focusing on stroke prevention, smoking cessation, healthy eating and exercise.
Baxter also put together a workshop on technology-based scams, with the help of an expert from AARP, knowing that more and more seniors were on computers and smart phones.
“That makes them more susceptible to becoming a victim to someone who is malicious,” Baxter said. “We had a lot of residents come down and learn how to protect their debit card, and what phone numbers and email (phishing schemes) to look out for. One scam that’s popular is, ‘I’m calling from Medicare’ or ‘I’m calling from Social Security.’ We remind them that those government entities will never call you unless they send you a letter telling you they’re going to call you.”
Active, spirited seniors
Baxter’s next project is to bring a chair exercise class to Wynhoven, after a complimentary class in April drew a large turnout. Meanwhile, she has reached out to the fitness program at nearby West Jefferson Hospital, through which residents can enjoy a 45-minute chair exercise class on Thursdays. About a dozen residents are regulars, “but every week I get five more people (to come),” she said.
“Our seniors are not just sitting in the corner in rocking chairs. They are active, a lot more active than anyone realizes,” Baxter said. “It kind of reminds me of ‘The Golden Girls,’ and how all of them were so active and dating. All of that is going on here!”
Holding hands of the lonely
For nine years, Babette Charbonnet has been overseeing the needs of 477 residents as the service coordinator at three Christopher Homes locations: Rouquette in Mandeville; St. Teresa’s Villa in Slidell; and St. Bernard Manor in Meraux. She said her job covers “anything and everything needed by a resident to keep them living independently and with dignity.”
This often can mean visiting residents in the hospital to keep up their spirits, as they boomerang between inpatient care and home.
“Just to encourage them to do their physical therapy and to grow strong – so they can come back to their apartment – at times when they feel they just don’t want to go on,” Charbonnet said. “I remind them of the things they love to do, whether it’s sewing or going to the dances or playing Bingo. A lot of our residents don’t have family support, so it’s important for us to provide that love and encouragement.”
Rouquette’s activity coordinator, Jill Macke, awakens and fosters residents’ skills in a variety of crafts, some of which are sold at the residence’s annual White Elephant sale. Their impressive wares include paintings, silk flower arrangements, wreaths and crocheted items.
The Volunteers of America go to Rouquette and St. Teresa’s Villa to recruit the “Paper Posse” – residents that help stuff envelopes for mailings. A monthly bingo, in place for a decade at Rouquette, pairs seniors with children with special needs, and a quarterly talent show brings the two groups together for karaoke and dance performances.
Charbonnet said she enjoys “making a difference in someone’s life every day” and watching her tenacious residents do the same.
“I will see a 90-year-old taking care of a 70-year-old who’s having difficulty or has just returned from surgery,” she said. “You do witness a lot of good works here.”
Beth Donze can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.