Day 4: Oregon Foster Care Comforting Alternative to Nursing Home

By Jim DeBrosse

Day 4: Oregon Foster Care Comforting Alternative to Nursing Home

Elderly adults live in a family setting, with own rooms

By Jim DeBrosse

Dayton Daily News (OH) – Wednesday, December 8, 1999

(C) 1999 Dayton Daily News 

LAKE OSWEGO, Ore. – It’s a typical afternoon in Christina Peterson’s adult foster home . 

Jo Anne Brice, 63, writes a letter to a friend in England while Edith Richardson, 82, knits an afghan. In her wheelchair by the stone fireplace, Rhoda Strand, 94, strokes the house lap dog Willie and watches TV. 

Peterson is cooking up her specialty, Spanish rice, and all the residents have gathered in the great room off the kitchen. 

All except one. Mildred Caviness, 71, rests in an easy chair in her bedroom, a warm blanket tucked over her legs, watching the birds feeding on the balcony outside. 

Caviness, in the last stages of lung cancer, has come here to die. 

Peterson’s home is exactly what Oregon officials had in mind in the early 1980s when they set about creating a system of adult foster homes , where the elderly could be cared for in more supportive, home -like settings, with no more than five elderly occupants. 

`The hope was that they would provide a home away from home , and I think it pretty much ended up that way in most cases,’ said Carrie Strey, the Oregon case manager who represents the residents in Peterson’s home . 

Six thousand elderly people in Oregon live in more than 1,200 foster care homes much like Peterson’s. Most elderly residents have their own bedroom and bathroom. Nurses make house calls to dispense medications, or they train and supervise a caregiver to do it for them. Meals are served family-style. 

By comparison, Ohio, which has three times Oregon’s elderly population, has just 467 licensed adult family homes , with three to five elderly residents each. 

Why so few? Oregon uses Medicaid funds to pay for adult foster homes while Ohio does not. Without significant public funding, “I don’t think you’re going to find a lot of people willing to get into the business” of adult foster care in Ohio, said Doug McGarry, head of the Area Agency on Aging for the Miami Valley. 

Peterson receives about $1,500 a month to care for each resident – or about half the cost of a nursing home . For the elderly who cannot afford it, Medicaid will pay. 

Peterson’s place is a home in the truest sense – she and her husband and their two sons also live there, along with her sister Kitty Stokesberry, who shares the caregiving duties. In about half of Oregon’s adult foster homes , the caregivers own and live in the house where their clients reside. 

Brice said she would never go back to a nursing home . `I think people are friendlier here than they are in a nursing home . There they’re always busy.’ And as for Peterson’s cooking, `It’s too good,’ Brice said. `I must have put on 20 pounds in the last year.’ 

Like many operators of adult foster homes , Peterson had worked in a nursing home before opening her own facility. As a dietary manager back then, she talked to many of the residents `and it just struck me there were so many people in nursing homes who didn’t want to be there, but they didn’t have any family to care for them.’ 

Mildred Caviness’ daughter, Ginger Coleman, quit her sales job several months ago so she could spend more time with her mother during her final weeks. Caviness died July 12. 

Coleman called the previous few months an emotional rollercoaster as her mother’s health alternately waned and rallied. `I’ve been through this over and over,’ Coleman said. `She’s dead – no, she’s not. She’s dead – no, she’s not. It’s been like that three or four times.’ 

Coleman broke down and cried. Kitty Stokesberry, Peterson’s sister, gave her a long hug and later brought her a glass of water and some Kleenex. 

The year before, Coleman said she quickly moved her mother from a nursing home after she fell and no one on the staff notified her. `There was one person on the floor to about 27 patients,’ Coleman said. `It was hurting me to leave her there, because I felt like I was leaving her in a kennel.” 

At the Petersons’, she said, `There are two, if not three, (staff) people here at all times. I know she’s being cared for here. I know she’s being loved.’