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Initiative helps residents get through health challenges and stay in their homes

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DEXTER — Residents of the region coping with and caring for family members with chronic conditions can potentially receive assistance through the Piscataquis Thriving in Place (TIP) Collaborative.
The initiative, which is funded by the Maine Health Access Foundation with the $300,000 having a funding period from Nov. 1, 2014 to the end of October 2017 and is facilitated by the Charlotte White Center, seeks to improve coordination across the continuum of care for people in Piscataquis County with chronic conditions to enable them to stay in their homes through the integration and coordination of existing services and the creation of a sustainable resource and referral network. These residents, including senior citizens and those with disabilities, are at an increased risk for hospitalization or other forms of institutional care.
TIP Project Director Meg Callaway said many people have difficulty reaching out for help. “We have observed it’s really hard for people to do, especially older people living in rural Maine,” she said. “Whether it’s pride or past experiences or fear of being scuttled into institutional care — lots of reasons. In some cases people have been helped before and it didn’t feel very helpful and they didn’t feel respected.”
“People are sometimes fearful of reaching out for help because they are afraid that someone will decide they need to live somewhere else,” Callaway said. “Nobody wants you to live somewhere else.”
She said the TIP Collaborative is focused on helping residents stay in their homes, which often can be less costly than other options.
The Wallace family of Dexter, which includes three generations under one roof in a home they had built for a move to the area from southern Maine in 2011, is one group of residents that have received assistance in various forms from the TIP Collaborative.
“This family’s story has all the elements of aging in place supports that we want people to know are available,” Callaway said while sitting in the North Dexter Road home living room with Shirley and Frank Wallace. “I think that Shirley in particular, and the whole family as a unit, has been wonderful at asking for timely support and it’s felt just so serendipitous that every time you called you were kind of anticipating or had a need and something else would happen and if you hadn’t had that prior resource it would have been a little harder and at each point you were so clear about what it was you needed and so appreciative but not hesitant to say you needed help.
“Shirley really contributes to her community a lot, her general community, her church community. She volunteers and when you are a person who is on the giving end and you also have the capacity to appreciate how much other people want to give and help and you can ask. That is such a gift to other people who want to help you get by and overall sustain your capacity to keep giving.”
Callaway said she first met Wallace at a Pine Tree Hospice Caring for the Caregiver event last year. The TIP project director said she learned the Wallaces lacked some street numbers for their home and these were acquired inexpensively through Eastern Area Agency on Aging with the the digits constructed at the state prison.
Wallace said her husband needed to have 40 days of radiation treatments at the Lafayette Family Cancer Center in Brewer and through the TIP Collaborative they learned about transportation to and from provided by Penquis Lynx Mobility Services.
“Penquis was providing him with rides so I didn’t have to take him every day,” Wallace said. She said the drivers initially had difficulty “deciding which house it was, so I contacted Meg about where we might get a house number.”
“Every time we direct someone to a resource that’s why I like to follow up because I would never have known about it had you not asked,” Callaway said. “You have helped us grow our database of resources.”
Wallace said she only learned about the Caring for the Caregiver event from a friend the day before. “Meg was there and said she would sit down and talk with anyone that had a need and at the time we had just found out that he was going to have to go to Brewer for all those trips and that was my chief concern,” she said. “She was also kind of taken aback that I was living in a house with a son that was handicapped and very ill and a husband that was extremely ill and a mother that had a lot of health problems.”
She said their son suffered a heart attack several years ago, requiring open heart surgery which has since limited him. Wallace said also a few years prior her now 89-year-old mother lost her balance while bowling and the fall shattered her right arm. After moving in with her daughter, son-in-law and grandson, Wallace said her mother has been dealing with some other health issues but still assists around the home when she can.
Wallace said Dr. Lesley Fernow of Dover-Foxcroft now conducts home visits for her mother.
“This past February (Frank Wallace) took a terrible fall and bashed his head into a doorframe and now he has a traumatic brain injury,” she said.
Frank Wallace said he was walking from his recliner to the kitchen when he fell, but today he cannot recall the incident.
“He was hospitalized and in rehab from Feb. 13 to May 18,” Shirley Wallace said.
“We have gotten a lot of help between the programs that Meg has provided and our church,” she said as the family are members of the Abbot Evangelical Free Church. “Our church family, while I was having to travel every day almost to Bangor when he was in the hospital, they were bringing in food, they were helping with housework, they were seeing what Mom needed, they would come over and spend the day with her so that she wasn’t alone all the time.”
Wallace said one of her fellow church members even cleaned up the yard where their Shih Tzu Maggie is taken out as she had not had a chance to do this.
Callaway said as Frank Wallace was in rehab his wife was thinking of his needs for when he came home. “The question is how does Shirley not get completely tapped out and because of her great capacity to accept help she took a friend’s support coming in and doing a few hours housework,” Callaway said. “She called me and said it would be great to have some respite for Frank and then we contacted the senior companion program.”
One visitor came to the home twice a week and another senior companion visited monthly. “He was not able to be by himself yet and that way I was able to get out of the house and go shopping or have lunch with a friend,” Shirley Wallace said.
“That’s the same quality in you that knows to ask for help, that looking out ahead,” Callaway said.
When asked what advice she would give to others who are hesitant to seek help Wallace — who admits doing so was not too difficult for herself given her extroverted nature — said, “I would probably tell them that the best thing they can do is to reach and get the help when they need it, before they are at their wits end because then you are really in over your head. But if you just get the help when you initially see that it’s coming it just relieves so much of the pressure and the grief.
“I can’t imagine the help that Meg has provided and the help the church has provided,” Wallace added.
She said her husband did say that he wished they were still in southern Maine when the family’s health troubles began, due to the proximity to the medical centers. “I have told him we would have had nobody helping us. We would not have the main community, we would not have the church community. We would have been on our own and that support has been priceless.”
“It’s a resource that channels you to the places or people that you need,” Wallace said in thanking Callaway and the TIP Collaboration.
For more information on the program, please go to http://charlottewhitecenter.org/services/piscataquis-thriving-in-place-tip-collaboration.

Observer photo/Stuart Hedstrom
HELP FOR THRIVING IN PLACE — Shirley and Frank Wallace of Dexter, with their Shin Tzu Maggie, have been coping with a number of family health issues in recent years. They have received assistance from and through other resources identified by the Piscataquis Thriving in Place (TIP) Collaborative, which is aimed at helping area residents be able to stay in their homes.

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