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Wisconsin Family Care Program Helps 22,000


• One in three Wisconsin people over 75 lives alone.

• Family Care began in a handful of counties in 2000.

• Program will expand to all counties by 2012.

Sue Stuck is deeply attached to her independence. Her apartment is the perfect size for the pictures, books and paperweights she has collected through the years. She can no longer do everything for herself—because of macular degeneration and heart ailments—but she can still live in her own apartment thanks to Wisconsin’s innovative Family Care program.

“Here, if I want to take a nap, I put my chair back and take a nap,” said the 72-year-old Delafield resident, sitting in her favorite recliner. “If I don’t want to eat breakfast or lunch and eat at 4 [p.m.], I can do that.”

Like Stuck, most older adults prefer to live independently. Family Care, funded by Medicaid, provides in-home care for older, low-income and disabled people. In Wisconsin, only 28 percent of Medicaid funds go to home- and community-based care; the rest goes to nursing homes. Family Care helps more than 22,000 people stay in their homes, saving Medicaid an average of $452 per person per month.

Here’s how it works. Family Care arranges for Stuck to get help with cleaning and shopping. An aide drives her to doctors’ appointments and the pharmacy. The program also offers nursing care, employment guidance and other services to qualifying older folks and those with disabilities.

Stuck’s care manager, Linda Zilles, works for Care Wisconsin, one of nine private nonprofits that contract with the state to provide Family Care services. Zilles talks with Stuck on a regular basis, by phone or in person. Zilles then contacts network providers to get the specific services her client needs.

Care Wisconsin CEO Karen Musser said Family Care helps people maintain their dignity. “It is frightening to think you have to leave your home and give up your independence and control and go to an institution. Older people no longer have nursing homes as their only choice. Family Care can provide the services they need in their home.”

Stuck has been a widow for more than 20 years, and her only surviving daughter lives in Missouri, so she welcomes the assistance.

According to an AARP Public Policy Institute report, one-third of Wisconsin residents over 75 live alone. Of those 65-plus, 35 percent have a disability that prevents them from handling some daily tasks.

Family Care started in a handful of Wisconsin counties in 2000. In 2006 Gov. Jim Doyle, D, announced plans to expand the program statewide and eliminate waiting lists that currently top 10,000. Now available in about half the counties, the state aims to offer Family Care in all 72 counties by 2012, according to Stephanie Marquis, media relations manager for the Department of Health Services. AARP pushed hard for the expansion.

“Caring for people outside of a nursing home just makes good common sense. It generally costs less and people are being served in a setting of their choice,” said D’Anna Bowman, AARP Wisconsin state director. “Family Care is an excellent long-term care model that the rest of the country would be wise to adopt.”

With Family Care, Stuck can stay in her apartment. The building, for adults 55 and older, has holiday cookouts and a community room for parties, and her neighbors have become her friends. “It is a home to me,” she said.

To receive Family Care, a person must have long-term care needs, live in a county that provides the service and meet low-income or disability requirements. Contact a local Aging and Disability Resource Center or the Department of Health Services.

Mike Nichols is a freelance writer living in Wisconsin.

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