Meet the team that cares for our community’s vulnerable elders

For the last several years, Anna was living with her husband in an independent retirement community. When her husband suddenly passed away, Anna’s cognitive impairment became readily apparent.

Elderly woman at homeAnna’s husband had been compensating for her impairment: managing and coordinating their financial and personal affairs and assisting with her activities of daily living. Without her husband’s support, expounded by the grief and loss of her loving partner, Anna’s cognitive functioning sharply declined.

It became clear, rather quickly, that Anna now required a higher level of care than the retirement community was equipped to provide and needed to relocate to a facility that could better support her in this phase of her life. However, without a legally designated guardian and conservator, no changes could be made in Anna’s situation until an emergency occurred.

Anna’s transition to conservatorship

With her safety in mind, the retirement community contacted Impact NW with their concerns for Anna’s well-being. Immediately, Impact NW began the process of acquiring legal guardianship and conservatorship, enabling staff to support Anna in the financial, medical, and psychological aspects of her life.  Impact NW and the retirement community staff remained highly involved with Anna during this transition until the court officially appointed Impact NW as guardian and conservator.

Senior GAP volunteers workingAt such time, Impact NW was able to find appropriate living placement for Anna and coordinate all aspects of her relocation. Impact NW was able to provide the necessary oversight of Anna’s medical care and financial affairs, as well as ensure that the whole of her basic needs were met. With Impact NW as guardian and conservator, Anna now had a dedicated staff person attending to her affairs, making choices in her best interest—ensuring that Anna enjoys the safety, peace, and quality of life she deserves.

The team that makes life-changing, good work happen

The small Impact NW team that supports hundreds of older adults like Anna each year play a vital role in our community, keeping our aging, vulnerable populations safe.

“Seniors don’t always have family or friends in the area to take on the role of surrogate decision maker,” said Debbie, Program Manager of Impact NW’s Senior Guardianship Assistance Program (Senior GAP). “Each senior’s needs are different and unique. Senior GAP steps in to oversee their safety and well-being,”

Senior man with pet dogMost often, the senior is living alone and is experiencing social isolation. Without an engaged guardian, older adults experiencing cognitive impairment decline more quickly. The appointment of a guardian and/or conservator enables Impact NW staff to support seniors through important, life-changing personal medical and financial decisions, ensuring a quality of life, social connections, and safety.

As guardians and conservators, Debbie and her team maintain responsibility for all aspects of life that the older adult is no longer equipped to manage.

“Though our primary role as guardian is to assure the safety and protection of our clients, we also manage the day-to-day business and finance of our clients. This includes paying their bills, securing their income, managing their investments, and making decisions about the best place for them to live and receive care,” said Debbie. And if they have pets, Senior GAP makes every effort to ensure the pet remains with the client.

The complex work of caring for our elders

John FritzCaring for older adults can be complex and requires detailed, diligent efforts to ensure that their well-being is prioritized, particularly with sensitive issues like end-of-life care. As such, Debbie and her team rely on the help of dedicated volunteers, like John Fritz, for support.

“I wanted to do something that would make a difference in someone’s life,” said John, who retired early and started volunteering with Senior GAP in 2014. “At first, I was surprised at how powerful this little program was. Three very dedicated women do so much for their clients and care about them deeply. I am proud to have been a part of that.”

“With the help & support of volunteers, like John, we can better focus our efforts on important interactions with our clients without having to worry about the clerical aspects,” said Debbie.

John spent his volunteer time writing checks on behalf of clients, ensuring their monthly bills were paid on time—an immensely important role in Senior GAP programming. John says he found joy in working with seniors.

“I don’t think people realize it, but when people get older they lose their friends and they lose their relatives. They are a joy to talk with. You gain a lot of insight from people’s pasts.”

You can help make a difference, too!

Man volunteering with Senior GAPAt the end of September, John retired fully after serving senior clients at INW for over 3 years. When asked to reflect on his time with the seniors at INW, John said, “I hope that my volunteering inspires others to give back when they’ve retired, too.”

If you are a retired professional looking to give back to your community and to those who are in dire need of support, including vital social connections, Senior GAP is always looking for community members to join us in our mission!

To learn more about volunteering, or if you or someone you know is interested in the Senior GAP program, please visit our volunteer opportunities page or call (503) 294-7445.