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Program helps out elderly

Low-income Citrus residents who can't take care of themselves or their homes and might have been headed for a nursing home can hang onto their independence longer.

Through a $118,000 state grant, the county's Department of Human Services can offer help with everything from housekeeping to personal care.

The program aims at "keeping those clients who are found to be in need of nursing home placement in their homes by using various support systems provided by Community Care for the Elderly," said Lynn Bissell, case manager for the Nursing Home Diversion program.

The program, which began Jan. 1, originally could target only 12 people, but the county has expanded the target group to 16. With 10 applicants already, county officials expect the slots to fill quickly.

Clients pay nothing for the service if they meet income eligibility, which is that they must qualify for Medicaid or Social Security supplement. Clients also must be 60 or older.

Applicants can be referred to the program through a physician or the state Department of Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS) or they can approach the county directly and have their case reviewed by a doctor and HRS later, she explained.

Medical Personnel Pool, a private health-care contractor, will perform the services, which include homemaking, respite care, personal care and chore services.

If a client also is in need of basic medical care such as physical therapy, the Nursing Home Diversion program could coordinate that care with local home- health agencies, Bissell said.

In addition to giving clients as much independence as they can handle outside a nursing home setting, the program is also expected to be much more cost-effective than a nursing home.

"When you figure that somebody might go into a nursing home because they basically need help only with meal preparation or respite care . . . the cost difference is unbelievable," Bissell said. "It's a neat program."

This six-month grant will run out this summer, but Bissell said the county expects to receive a yearlong grant to continue and possibly expand the program.

For information on the Nursing Home Diversion program or other services offered through the county human services division, call 746-1505 or 746-1844.