Aging islanders often don’t need full-time help, but when traveling to the mainland for a medical appointment or cleaning their house, an extra set of hands makes it easier and safer. When elders are still fairly mobile they often have a hard time admitting they need help, especially if they have to pay for it.
The North Haven Outreach Worker position has been around since the 1970s, and is funded almost entirely by the private Pulpit Harbor Foundation. It’s not only for elderly residents, but Lindsey Beverage, the outreach worker for the past nine years, mostly works with older islanders.
HOW IT WORKS
Lindsey helps those in need with transportation to medical appointments, shopping, banking, and other errands off the island. She installs medical alert units in homes, and will act as liaison for medical appointments, relating the outcome to the patient’s family and getting prescriptions. She connects people with wheelchairs, walkers, and other equipment owned by the town. Sometimes, she just stops in for a visit, just bringing in the mail and saying hello.
- Locate funding, from individual donations, foundation support or the town.
- If there isn’t a source of charitable funding for a position like this, consider starting an in-home care business, or recruit a very dedicated group of volunteers.
- Figure out which services are needed, and which ones can or can’t be met by the outreach worker. A series of interviews may be the best way to accomplish this.
- Spread the word to islanders about services offered and how to contact the outreach worker.
Q & A WITH LINDSEY BEVERAGE, NORTH HAVEN OUTREACH WORKER
Do people pay for your services at all?
No. Probably the best part is that it is a fee-free service; otherwise, I think that it would dramatically reduce the number of people who even allow themselves to be okay with asking me to drive them to an appointment. There is a lot of pride to get around, so you really have to follow the individual’s lead. I have one person who doesn’t have family on the island, so it’s her only reliable option, and she would have to pay for it no matter what. Other people, if they had to pay for it, might not access it as quickly.
How do people get in touch with you?
People are sometimes referred to me by the clinic, if it’s an immediate medical thing, but by and large it’s a culturally known position, and people just call me at home.
Do you have a list of services you do and don’t provide?
It’s case by case, person by person, and I’ve learned where their boundaries are. It’s important for someone in my position to be aware of good personal boundaries, but there’s nothing on my job description that says I can’t do XYZ. People either want you do everything, which eats up all your time, or nothing, and they’re isolating themselves. You have to recognize when someone is really capable, and where that line crosses into an unsafe situation.
I think one of the most relatable trainings is the PSS (personal support specialist), and I have done that for an unrelated position. I have resisted some of that training, because it will tell you, “You can do XYZ, but you can’t do this.” The curricula isn’t derived from rural island communities. They tell you, “If you take money from someone to do shopping, you have to get a receipt signed, etc.” In the real world, people rip other people off, especially elders, so there are lots of rules. Here, there’s a lady who gets the same 14 things every time, and if I’m in Rockland, I’ll give her a call and ask if there’s anything I can get for her. I’ll pay for them separately, and then she reimburses me. But according to that training, it would not be okay. On an island, you have to be able to think outside that box.
What’s the biggest roadblock for other communities who want a position like this?
When I talk about my role as an outreach worker, everyone says, “Oh that’s so great! How do you get paid?” Then when I explain, “Oh…” Clearly there aren’t foundations with a similar commitment in their own community, so there isn’t any lightbulb going off. Funding is definitely a roadblock.
- Anyone in need of assistance can call Lindsey on the phone. Usually, she explains, folks tell her “I have an appointment on this date, and I need you to come.” Sometimes, that can lead to conflicting appointments, but usually she’s able to accommodate their needs.
- It would be difficult to muster volunteers with the same dedication or availability as a paid staff person. For islands without an obvious funding source, paying for an outreach worker is the biggest challenge.
- Individuals require different amounts of help and work well in different styles. Lindsey stressed the importance of listening carefully, getting to know individuals, and adjusting care and services accordingly.
OUTCOMES / RESULTS
This is a very successful program. Lindsey receives funding for eight hours a week, often works 15, and says this could easily become a part time job if the funding were available. However, she also stressed that the program’s success, if measured by its ability to reach those in need, is dependent on not requiring any payment. While similar programs who charge for care may turn a profit, they reach fewer people and a smaller portion of the aging population.
On Swan’s Island, Donna Wiegle runs an informal program called Eldercare Outreach of Swan’s Island. She generally doesn’t charge for services, and is able to help the island elders with everything from transportation to paying bills. She also runs the island’s medical center, so unlike many island eldercare services, Donna can help with some medical issues and act as a liaison between residents and their mainland doctors. Swan’s residents appreciate the neighborly and informal care that Donna provides. The program is a 501(c)(3) non-profit funded by individual donations, and Donna recently began receiving a small stipend of compensation.
Originally Published March 2016