Preserving independence one step at a time
Stepping on the Ecumenical Retirement Community bus for the first time in nine months, Mary Thomas was greeted with cheers from her friends, many she hadn’t seen for several months. With Restorative Care Coordinator Angelina Arriaga by her side, Thomas was on her way to Sunday morning mass, a goal she set seven weeks earlier.
An active, independent resident of Ecumenical Retirement Community in Harrisburg, Pa., Thomas fell in November of 2013. Living with multiple sclerosis for 40 years, she was accustomed to an occasional spill. But this time the pain in her ankle wouldn’t go away. Turns out that her ankle was broken, and she spent six months in a rehabilitation facility building her strength to return to her home at Ecumenical Retirement Community.
“I felt as though I was coming home,” says Thomas. “I was in some good places for rehabilitation, but I felt like a foreigner out there, and I wanted to be closer to home. I was very happy to get back here.”
Thomas’ return to Ecumenical Retirement Community in May was possible because of a new restorative care program which provides short- and long-term assistance to individuals who need more support than what is offered in a traditional personal care setting. Through the program, residents set achievable goals that help them improve and preserve their independence. Services to help residents reach those goals may include physical, occupational and/or speech therapy. Restorative care coordinators work with residents throughout the day to incorporate exercises and reinforce skills through a variety of activities.
“This is a program of hope for residents who have more physical disabilities than a resident in personal care,” says Arriaga. “We don’t just focus on physical abilities or limitations, but look at the spiritual being of our residents—what their thoughts and feelings are. We are basically encouraging and motivating them to reach their specific goals.”
Restorative care coordinators work alongside therapists to learn specific exercises that can help residents between scheduled therapy sessions. In addition to helping with personal care tasks as needed, care coordinators provide two daily programs such as exercises in the morning and an active game that incorporates movement in the afternoon. They also collaborate with Community Life coordinators to assure residents have ample opportunities for spiritual and emotional fulfillment through participation in music programs, planned entertainment and games.
“This is just such a blessing. Without this program, some of our residents might not be able to maintain the skills they need to be here,” says Arriaga. “We are able to provide a little more care and help them be able to do those things, like propelling their own wheelchair or walk longer distances, so they can stay in a place that’s familiar and comfortable to them.”
After getting to know Thomas, Arriaga asked what goal she’d like to set. Thomas, a devout Roman Catholic, hadn’t been able to attend mass since her fall and she missed it. Her right leg was still too weak to allow her to climb the steps to get on the bus that transports residents to church each week.
To achieve her goal, Thomas needed to be able to climb the steps as well as walk from the church entrance, down the aisle and to her seat. Arriaga was Thomas’ cheerleader as she rode the exercise bike to build stamina, did leg exercises, and stepped on and off a stool to mimic the motion of getting on the bus. As Thomas got better at going long distances, Arriaga arranged for her to practice twice a day getting on and off the actual bus she would take on Sundays. Finally, in August, Thomas was ready. Arriaga came in on her day off to cheer on Thomas as she achieved her goal.
“Climbing onto the bus was a dream come true,” says Thomas. “I saw many people I knew so it was like a reunion with old friends. Being in the church was just beautiful. I had been homesick to go to mass.”
“It was great! With help, therapy, and Mary’s dedication and determination, she completed her goal, and she has been back on that same bus every Sunday since then!” exclaims Arriaga who recently held a celebration for Thomas and several other residents who achieved their goals.
Thomas’ new goal is to use her walker independently. Although she can move about freely with her wheelchair, Arriaga encourages Thomas to walk as much as she can to build strength and stamina. Thomas also is incorporating skills to help her prevent future falls. She credits her new leg brace with keeping her foot positioned properly.
Thomas says, “The combination of encouragement and activities has really helped me. I can see the benefits so vividly that I just want to get on to the next goal.”