Home care collaborators

In what they’re calling a “win-win” move for everyone, two agencies — one Jewish, the other Catholic — are collaborating to provide in-home services to the elderly. Though the joint effort has just gotten off and running, both social service organizations hold extremely high hopes for its success.

It all began a few months ago, when Mickey Sherman, director of the Seniors at Home division of the S.F.-based Jewish Family and Children’s Services, heard that her local counterpart at Catholic Charities/ Catholic Youth Organization was interested in starting a home-care agency. Though Catholic Charities ran a limited home-care program through its senior center, its few home-care attendants couldn’t provide nearly the scope of services that was needed, explained Mary Schembri, Catholic Charities’ director of aging and behavioral health-care services.

Private-duty home-care attendants can be a godsend to those who are semi-independent. While some people only lack for companionship or maybe a ride to the doctor’s office or help with grocery shopping, others may require assistance with such everyday needs as bathing, dressing and preparing nutritious meals. Those with medical problems may need to be seen by a nurse on a regular basis.

JFCS does all this and more through its Home Care program.

Starting such a program “is a very, very expensive venture,” said Sherman. “It also requires a great deal of knowledge about state regulations.” So she proposed to Schembri that JFCS provide the services it needs, offering “a direct line people can call for Catholic Charities home care.”

Such a deal made good financial sense not only for Catholic Charities, but for JFCS. “It generates revenues for us,” said Sherman, “and it gives Catholic Charities the ability to offer … home care, without the expense of having to set up a separate home-care agency.”

Schembri agreed. “The whole focus was, instead of re-creating the wheel, we could use an excellent service that’s already being provided. There was no ‘down side’ to it.” By joining hands, the agencies are being “a good steward of the dollar,” she said. That works to everyone’s benefit: clients, donors and service providers.

Catholic Charities is just starting to spread the word about this new program through the local Catholic newspaper, promotional brochures, individual parishes and other means. Some people have already availed themselves of services. Ultimately Schembri hopes to serve clients in the three counties Catholic Charities CYO serves: San Francisco, San Mateo and Marin. Furthermore, she said, “We have gotten referrals from the diocese of Santa Rosa, and JFCS works in Sonoma [County],” so she hopes to serve that area as well.

As more people have become aware of the collaboration, their feedback has been gratifying. “It’s all been positive,” said Schembri. In an era of “shrinking dollars,” she said, “we really have to put our resources to good use.”

In addition, noted Sherman, people like the idea of two agencies working together for the common good. “They say, ‘Oh, this is so wonderful to see the two agencies collaborating.'”

It’s not so unusual for the Jewish and Catholic groups to link up, she added. “About two years ago, [members of] our boards went to Israel together,” said Sherman, adding that another mixed group recently toured together as well.

As for any clash of values, Sherman doesn’t see that happening. “Our services are built on Jewish values; everything we do is centered around our Jewish values. But I feel that Jewish values are human values, they’re good values for anyone. We haven’t had any conflict.”

In fact, she said, “for about five years now, we have greatly expanded services far beyond the Jewish community. The majority of our clients are not Jewish; we have been doing this for a long time.”

Both agencies see a great need for home-care services.

“The problem is, if you’re at the Medi-Cal level, you can get so many hours a week covered,” Schembri explained. “But many people are just above” the eligibility cut-off to receive state Medi-Cal assistance. For these people, obtaining help with such things as getting up and dressed in the morning, eating decent meals, housekeeping and getting out and about may seem out of reach. For them “that $16 or $20 an hour” for a home health-care aide “is astronomical,” Schembri said.

In its program, JFCS will take a comprehensive look at a client’s situation and needs, and map out a continuum of services. (The service isn’t free, but sliding-scale fees are available on a case-by-case basis.) Also, clients can be reassured that the aides are licensed, bonded and responsible.

The alternatives aren’t so attractive. A recent study by AARP reported that “the typical caregiver is a 47-year-old woman who is working part-time and taking care of an elderly parent,” who in turn is taking care of an ill spouse, said Schembri. “The caregiving stress and the burnout is just incredible.” She speaks from firsthand experience. “I did it. I was exactly there,” she said.

There’s another advantage to hiring a professional through an agency — though it’s one that many tend to overlook, noted Schembri.

“That home-health aide is the eyes and ears of everybody.” A trained aide may discern a client’s physical or emotional problems that may not be apparent to others — including family members who stop by for visits — and recommend immediate treatment or referrals. Otherwise, the condition could go undetected and deteriorate, or, worse yet, the elderly individual may end up being rushed to the hospital for emergency-room treatment.

“It’s that preventative thing that not only saves the family money, but the whole medical system,” said Schembri.

JFCS already has firmly established partnerships with such health-care providers as Kaiser Permanente, Health Net and others, said Sherman, and “we fully anticipate doing more of these collaborations and partnerships.”

As for JFCS and Catholic Charities, this is “the first of many” collaborations, according to Schembri. “We will talk about doing joint proposals for other funding” that may come their way.

“We are two very professionally run organizations, and I think people look to us to be leaders in the field. We want to set a model in the community. So I say that this will be the way of the future.”

Liz Harris

Liz Harris is a J. contributor. She was J.'s culture editor from 2012-2018.