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Keeping seniors safe at home

SCV Senior Center Supportive Services provides counseling and comfort to the elderly

Posted: August 16, 2009 8:37 p.m.
Updated: August 17, 2009 4:55 a.m.

From left, care manager Michelle Cornell, Supportive Services director SuzAnn Nelsen, and care managers Candye Rucker and Karin Kelly discuss cases in an effort to keep seniors safe in their own homes for as long as possible through providing resources and available assistance. <...

"Supportive Services, how can I help you?" Dozens of callers to the Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center's Supportive Services Department receive that greeting each weekday.

Yet thousands of local families are unaware that the senior-friendly domain even exists.

"Our department provides vital services and programs that allow the more frail seniors of our community to remain safely in their own homes for as long as possible," said SuzAnn Nelsen, Senior Center director of supportive services.

Nelsen, who has worked in Supportive Services helping seniors for 21 years, said her department offers professional case management, counseling, in-home services, assessments for home-delivered meals, transportation assistance, and much more.

Placement referrals for when people can no longer stay in their own homes are also available, Nelsen said.

"We help families make those difficult decisions," she stated.

Nelsen acknowledged that emotional support is a major therapeutic facet of the program.

"This is for seniors as well as family members having difficulty with a loved one. We offer caregiver support groups, counseling services and other sources of assistance," said Nelsen who began her tenure at the Senior Center as a care manager.

Retired seniors also play a significant role in Supportive Services, serving effectively as volunteer peer counselors, providing telephone reassurance and more, the director added.

"Volunteering offers many health and emotional benefits and this can be especially important in the senior years," Nelsen said.

"Camaraderie and knowing you are making a positive difference for others are particularly gratifying."

Speaking of her longtime position serving seniors and families, Nelsen said she truly enjoys it all.

"Every day is different whenever you are working with people and there are always many challenges ... but there are also at least as many rewards," she said.

Reward is a two-way street
Psychotherapist Candye Rucker, who works as a Supportive Services care manager, described her role helping seniors - which starts with a home visit.

"It's really an honor to be invited into someone's home. What begins with an intake packet or assessment for home-delivered meals evolves into a friendship," said Rucker, who also maintains a private practice in Newhall, runs support groups for the Michael Hoefflin Foundation for Children's Cancer and sees children in her office as needed.

As a care manager, Rucker interfaces with clients to determine their need levels and then strives to match them with programs available at Senior Center. Key components of her job include listening and providing comfort, Rucker said.

"Many of these seniors don't have people who come to see them regularly or listen to their history," she said. "So many of the people they talk about have long passed and these conversations bring back good memories while brightening them up a bit. That's surely better than sitting alone all day watching TV without outside contact."

Rucker, who gladly credits her Senior Center-proponent mother Jeanne Danis for encouraging her involvement with seniors, notes there's a difference between visiting clients in their homes as opposed to an office.

"It's interesting to see people on their own turf where they have a sense of comfort," Rucker said. "You see family pictures, and hear nostalgic stories. They enjoy having someone come in and share themselves."

Supportive Services home visits and relationships provide both clients and care managers with precious rewards, Rucker said.

"I get called ‘sweetheart' a lot," Rucker said. "When you hear, ‘You are my sunshine,' or, ‘You've made my day,' that feels so good. That's the best job compensation there is."

Karin Kelly, a care manager and registered nurse, agrees that most of the seniors she visits need a patient ear and opportunity to "open up."

According to Kelly, she especially likes hearing childhood stories, which not only provide a window into their past, but also a vent for their soul.

"Many of our clients grew up in the 1920s and 1930s and I love to hear them reminisce. This gives me better insight into who they are and where they have come from," Kelly said.

Michelle Cornell, a care manager whose background is in sociology, feels one cannot do the job without getting personally involved.

"One of my clients is a man who has no family and I am pretty much his only contact," Cornell said. "I am the one who helps him get groceries, reminds him to take his medications, gets him to medical appointments, and handles repairs needed for his mobile home. Without my advocacy, he would have minimal ability to take care of himself."

A wife, mother of three, and daughter, Cornell said her professional role has also further increased her awareness of the demands of caregiving.

"I took care of my father-in-law when I was taking care of my own family and going to school," she said. "From that experience, I learned how to better relate to other people in that situation, not only the caregivers but also the seniors themselves."

Cornell admits that "anybody can wind up needing help from Supportive Services."

"Everyone has different backgrounds, different stories, and different reasons why they are in their positions at this stage of life," she said.

The care manager urges seniors and family caregivers to learn more about the Senior Center's Supportive Services department.

"Many people do not know about our services or are hesitant to ask for help," she said. "I encourage all seniors and caregivers to call us, go online find out what we offer. You may not need our services today ... but you may in the future."

The Santa Clarita Valley Senior Center's Supportive Services Department can be reached at (661) 255-1588.Online:


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