May 1, 2013

Helping seniors age in place


---- — LAKE PLACID — Six years ago, the Sisters of Mercy were at a crossroads to end or renew their mission in the Adirondacks.

The religious congregation’s decision to examine the real needs of Tri-Lakes communities was a throwback move to its founder, Catherine McAuley, who did the same in 19th century Ireland.

“They first came to the Adirondacks in 1895 to establish Sanitarium Gabriels to treat tubercular patients,” said Donna Beal, executive director for Mercy Care for the Adirondacks.

Later, the Sisters of Mercy established Mercy General Hospital in Tupper Lake, which later became Mercy Healthcare Center, a long-term skilled-nursing facility, and Uihlein Mercy Center in Lake Placid, also a skilled-nursing facility. 

Ownership of both facilities was transferred to Adirondack Medical Center.

“The Sisters of Mercy, along with some of the board members of the foundation that previously helped to support the skilled-nursing facilities, went into the community to see if there was a need that was unmet. From those we talked with, the most compelling need was to relieve isolation and loneliness of elders living in their own homes,” Beal said.

Mercy Care of the Adirondacks was established in 2007. Sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, its mission is “to enhance the fullness of life of elders living in their community.”

With a new mission, Mercy Care established three interrelated strategies: direct service for elders, community empowerment, and education and advocacy.

A Friendship Volunteer program is one of the initiatives providing direct service to elders.

“Friendship volunteers and parish nurses assist elders living in their own homes with informal support to help them to age in place more successfully,” Beal said. “Right now, Mercy Care has trained more than 90 friendship volunteers since 2008. Nearly 100 volunteers and parish nurses serve more than 70 elders in the Tri-Lakes community.”

Since 2008, Mercy Care has trained 40 parish nurses throughout the Diocese of Ogdensburg.

“Just this past year, we collaborated with Catholic Charities, and we trained 18 parish nurses in the Watertown area. Bishop Terry LaValley commissioned the new parish nurses, which was really exciting. There are currently 12 parish nurses in Mercy Care directly serving the Tri-Lakes area,” Beal said.

Parish nurses hail from many faith communities, and Mercy Care serves elders of all faiths.

Mercy Care encourages each community to develop facilities, programs and policies that uniquely support fullness of life of elders.

“We only have a staff of three people,” Beal said. “We’re a very small organization. That is leveraged extensively by the hundreds of volunteers we have and many community-service volunteers through human-service agencies.”

Mercy Care advocates community development.

“We provide the organizational support so each community itself will become empowered to develop in a manner that will make it more elder-friendly. In a nutshell, Mercy Care serves as a catalyst, convener and a facilitator for systemic change,” she said.

Since 2008, Mercy Care has held 11 forums featuring state and national experts on trends in elder care. The next forum is Thursday, May 16. Topics are “Aging, Longevity and the Law” presented by Vera Prosper and Roger Abrams and “Elder Caregiving in Rural Communities” presented by Linda Lindsey Davis. Prosper is a senior policy analyst with the New York State Office for the Aging. Abrams practices law in Lake Success and is a national expert in health and elder law. Davis is the Ann Henshaw Gardiner professor of nursing at Duke University.

“Through education, we seek to promote an understanding of issues and challenges in the lives of elders,” Beal said. “Anyone can attend. We keep our registration fee very low. It’s $15. We do have scholarships for elders. We don’t want any elder not be able to come because they can’t afford it.”

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IF YOU GO WHAT: "Aging, Longevity and the Law" presented by Vera Prosper and Robert Abrams; "Elder Caregiving in Rural Communities" presented by Linda Lindsey Davis. WHEN: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday, May 16. WHERE: Paul Smith's College, 7777 New York 30, Brighton. REGISTRATION: Fee is $15. Registrations are on a first-come, first-served basis. Registration-fee scholarships are available for elders experiencing financial hardship. CONTACT: Sheils Schneck at 523-5580 or