Home visitation programs for the elderly seek out the lonely, the handicapped and the isolated and provide a regularly sheduled home call, usually once a week, by a friendly visitor. Such seniors to live in their homes as long as they wish.
In Prince George's County the home visitation program is conducted by the department of services and programs for the aging. Approximately 200 home-bound elderly persons are visited regularly by a staff of about 25 vositors who themselves are elderly women and men. Each visitor has a list of homes where he becomes known and welcomed.
Visitors are given mileage reimbursement and a nominal wage for work up to a limit of 20 hours per week. Funding for this project is primarily through the state office of human resources.
According to Rosemary Madden, one of the program coordinators, "the tone of these visits is that of a friend calling upon a friend." If some small chore needs attention, the visitor would probably help. But the aim is a friendly, supportive visit that vould include a brief stroll outdoors. Program regulations do not permit outomobile excursions.
Home visitation apparently serves both the home-bound senior and the visitor. Madden recalls one visitor saying, "It means a lot to me. If I were not a visitor in this program, I'd need to have a visitor in myself. It does me a word of good to get out and be with people."
Workers cite many instances of finding an elderly person in a depressed mood who became animated and cheerful during the visit. Not long ago there was a case of turnabout when a hospitalized visitor received a call from one of visitor clients - a display of the client's appreciation.
Whatever problems a visitor encounters are discussed with a coordinator. There are also bi-weekly staff meetings attended by all visitors and by representatives of other county service agencies. These meetings give both support and in-service training to the corps of visitors and prepare them to make appropriate referrals when this is advisable.
Some expansion of the program is under consideration, particularly in the lower county area, but his depends upon increased availability of funds and staff. There is a waiting list now but the wait, according to Madden, is not long and surely not in cases of urgent need. Interested persons can obtain further information by calling 350-0650.
In Montgomery County the home visitation program is administered and coordinated by the Mental Health Association as delegated by the office of human resources, which provides a major share of the funding. Patricia Wilhelm is director of the program, which involves nearly 200 volunteers ranging in age from 18 to 80. According to the current annual report, the program last year provided visits to more than 1,000 persons, some of whom reside in nursing homes. Persons visited are of any age or means, but about 80 per cent are elderly.
Most visitors are assigned only one person whom they see regularly, either on weekdays or on weekends. Before assignment visitors are given training by the staff to insure confidence, competence and dignity in the home visit relationship. It is a expected that after training a volunteer will serve for at least one year.
The nature of a visit is that of a friendly call to anyone isolated, handicapped, lonely or home-bound. According to Wilheim, there is usually a sharing of interests, often bringing new hobbies to both the visitor and the visited.
Volunteers in the Montgomery County Friendly Visitors Program are not expected to give home care. They are in regular contact with the association staff and, if it is found that more than a sociable visit is needed, coordinators follow through with appropriate referral.
During the year there are some reassignments for a variety of reasons, for example, a given pairing may not work out. In one case, a gentleman, when his broken limb mended, called in to his own, freeing the visitor to serve someone else in need.
While there is a waiting list for regular home visitation calls, Wilhelm explained that her staff arranges for available intermediate service like Telecare, a program providing for regular telephone visits. Further information can be obtained by calling the Mental Health Association office, 949-1255.
Home visitation is part of an overall effort "to establish a coordinated system of services (delivered to the elder's place of residence) which would enable him-her to remain in his-her residence as long as desirable, thus avoiding premature or inappropriate institutionalization," according to Montgomery County's current area plan for programs on aging.