Cycle of life

Assembling the team: City Councilman Bobby Henon attended a job fair at the Living Independence For the Elderly center in Mayfair on Jan. 5. The event drew more than 100 applicants. MARIA S. YOUNG / TIMES PHOTO

In retrospect, it seems like a no-brainer. Instead of sending ailing or at-risk senior citizens off to nursing homes, why not make it possible for them to live out their golden years in their own private homes with the help of readily accessible and coordinated healthcare, wellness and social services?

Firstly, so-called “aging in place” is generally a lot cheaper than full-blown nursing home care. Equally as important, most seniors — even the frail elderly — seem to prefer to reside in their own homes as long as they can. Meanwhile, Philadelphia’s population of seniors continues to grow with the nation’s, thanks to the aging baby boomer generation.

In an effort to help low-income seniors stay at home, service providers have been teaming with Medicare and Medicaid since the 1970s to develop daycare programs for older adults that meet their medical and social needs. In 1997, the federal government established the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly as a permanent part of Medicare. Pennsylvania’s version of that, Living Independence For the Elderly, also known as LIFE, arrived a year later.

Yet, it wasn’t until just last week that Northeast Philadelphia saw the opening of its first LIFE center in Mayfair’s Roosevelt Plaza. A job fair hosted there by NewCourtland Senior Services drew more than 100 applicants on Jan. 5. Eventually, the center could employ dozens in clinical and non-clinical jobs, while serving hundreds of older Northeast residents.

The center is the start of what NewCourtland hopes will be a rapid expansion in the Northeast. The nonprofit agency is actively pursuing efforts to develop additional centers, along with new senior communities, at the site of the former Liddonfield public housing project in Upper Holmesburg and at the former St. Bartholomew School in Wissinoming.

“This is the first LIFE center in the Northeast. They’re planting their roots here,” said City Councilman Bobby Henon, whose district includes all three sites. “The Northeast is underserved when it comes to senior citizens, so I think this is a good resource for services.

“It’s good for the stability of the neighborhood, for keeping residents in the neighborhood. And it’s an incredible reuse for properties that were vacant or abandoned.”

NewCourtland is not the first LIFE provider with an interest in the Northeast, but it’s the first to capitalize on the opportunity to grow here. The LIFE program model is built on ZIP code-based territorial rights granted by the state. That way, no two providers are in direct competition. Philadelphia’s three providers are NewCourtland, UPenn School of Nursing and Mercy.

NewCourtland’s territory now includes 22 ZIP codes in Northeast, North and Northwest Philadelphia. But previously, the 10 ZIP codes in the Northeast were assigned to another provider that failed to develop a LIFE program here. In the meantime, LIFE centers have been cropping up elsewhere throughout the city.

Mia Stahl directs one of those programs, NewCourtland’s LIFE center at 19th Street and Allegheny Avenue in North Philly’s Swampoodle section. She’s also helping to open up the 10,000-square-foot Roosevelt Plaza facility (on the corner of Roosevelt Boulevard and Harbison Avenue).

“We look to be able to go into areas where we can remediate the area and bring jobs,” Stahl said. “We definitely want to grow the community. This is a little different. Up here, it’s fresh, it’s modern.”

The basic idea is to offer a gamut of older adult services under one roof. Clients must be 55 or older, live within NewCourtland’s territory and be in need of long-term care. Clients can see a primary physician or specialist at the LIFE center, get a prescription filled, receive various forms of therapy, enjoy meals and engage in a variety of wellness and social activities such as yoga, tai chi, zumba and walking. NewCourtland can drive clients to and from the center.

“It’s kind of a home away from home,” Stahl said.

Much like a close family member would, certified nurses and aides engage clients personally, learning their thoughts, needs and wishes. New Courtland can also provide in-home services that might include accessibility modifications.

There are no co-pays associated with any service. The federal PACE program (not to be confused with Pennsylvania’s prescription drug program of the same name) pays the provider a flat fee per client.

There are about 30 Northeast residents already receiving services at NewCourtland’s Allegheny Avenue center. Those folks will be the first clients in the new Northeast facility, which can serve up to 73 at one time. The ultimate enrollment has yet to be determined, but as a reference point, the Allegheny Avenue center serves about 260 clients routinely and employs 50.

For information about NewCourtland LIFE, call 888–530–4913 or visit newcourtlandlife.org. ••

Closer to home: (From left) Earl Jackson, Anne Petherbridge and Albert McKoy use exercise equipment at the Living Independence For the Elderly center at 19th Street and Allegheny Avenue. A new LIFE Center, located in Mayfair’s Roosevelt Plaza, is the first of its kind in the Northeast and offers a variety of older adult services such as medical care, therapy and wellness and social activities. SOURCE: ROBERT NERONI PHOTOGRAPHY