Margurite Timlin, 88, of North Arlington is losing her eyesight and cannot hear as well as she used to. But she is still self-sufficient and able to care for herself, with the help of home-maker aides who have been visiting her on weekday mornings for several years.
The aides are from the Homemaker Health Aide Service, a 20-year-old organization that provides temporary household, baby siting and health aide service in metropolitan Washington.
Mary MacGregor, a senior citizen herself, now works for Timlin between 8 a.m. and noon every day. She does most of the cooking, shopping, errands, helps with her personal care such as her hair-setting and baths, writes letters and posts them for her, does laundry and light housekeeping. "I organize her life," she said.
At 64, MacGregor is know as HHAS for her energy. Her supervisor, Madelyn Humeway, said, "Her energetic approach to the job strikes just the right chord for many clients."
MacGregor said she began earning her own living at 57. She worked for six years in a nursing home and found it to be fascinating work. "Most people haven't the foggies notion of what it is like to be elderly," she said.
She has been helping Timlin for three months and has worked with the agency for a year. She lives in Fairfax.
Although Timlin has used the HHAS service off and on for seven years, she travels to visit her children quite a bit so the homemaker often changes when she returns.
HHAS is one of two homemaker aide organizations in the country accredited this month as fully meeting the standards set by the National Council of Homemaker-Home Health Aide Services, based in New York City. Submission to the accreditation review is voluntary but is encouraged by the national council, an independent agency that has been issuing accreditations since 1972.
HHAS is the only organization in the Washington area that is accredited by the national council.
Although it is a non-profit agency, 57.8 per cent of HHAS's annual budget comes from fees of private clients. The cost of the service ranges from $4.70 to $6.28 per hour, based on the service and the user's ability to pay. Exceptions may be made for those unable to afford the full fee.
Toward this end, 18.7 per cent of the HHAS budget is provided by United Way funds. Another 21.5 per cent is federal money channeled through governmental agencies in Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia and paid to HHAS in the form of fees. Contributions and donations make up the balance of the funding.
HHAS has 127 trained and supervised homemaker aides on the staff, many of them part-time workers. Accoding to HHAS, they provide a range of personal care, do laundry, light housekeeping, shop for groceries, prepare regular and special diet meals, care for small children and instruct handicapped or disabled persons in activities of daily living.
Another 19 staff members run the two offices at 1825 Connecticut Ave. NW in the District and at 4710 Auth Pl. SE in Camp Springs, Md. They also assign cases and train and supervise the homemaker aides.
Organized to provide temporary help during times of special need or crisis, most of the service is short term.
The exceptions to this, according to the acting executives director, Miriam Felder, are the some of the elderly, such as Timlin, who may continue to need the service for months or even years.
Felder said it allows many older people to avoid going to a nursing home.
"Older people do better in familiar surroundings," she said. "It is definitely more economical than hospitalization and is usually more emotionally satisfying for both the older person and his children.
The elderly now make up most of the HHAS cases. Of the 1,334 cases in the first nine months of this fiscal year, 1,065 were over 60 years old and the percentage of elderly cases is gradually increasing each year. This is a change from when in the service first began. Then, there was a greater need for child care services, according to HHAS.
Felder, who had been acting director for the service since Aug. 1 said, "In recent years with our growing elderly population, there has been a trend toward greater utilization of in-home care."
Not all services for the elderly are indefinite. There are times, according to HHAS, when an older person can be self-sufficient enough to discontinue the service altogether.
HHAS gives such an example from their files. An 88-year-old woman who was discharged from the hospital in a back brace wanted to recuperate in her apartment instead of a nursing home. HHAS provided an aide, five days a week at first and then three days a week as she improved. When she became able to care for herself, the service was discontinued.
Felder says her organization has to turn down some requests. "Even with over 120 on our staff, we are not able to fully meet the need in the community," she said.