Tuesday, December 10, 2013

On the Road with Jennifer Sills, Outreach and Advocacy Coordinator for ICHNJ

“If anyone were to ask me what I want out of life I would say - the opportunity for doing something useful, for in no other way, I am convinced, can true happiness be attained”. –Eleanor Roosevelt
These words are true to my heart.
Jennifer Sills writes about her ICHNJ experience
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As an Outreach and Advocacy Coordinator for I Choose Home NJ (ICHNJ), I have the great pleasure of doing work that is useful and produces positive results for seniors living in nursing homes. I Choose Home NJ helps to transition people out of institutional settings – nursing homes and developmental centers – back to more independent community living with the supports and services needed to meet their health and social needs. I Choose Home NJ is not only great for individual participants, it is also saving NJ taxpayers millions of dollars in the process.

An average day for me starts by driving to Bergen, Hudson, Essex or Passaic County. In these counties I am visiting every nursing home, Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC), hospital, and any and all professional or community groups willing to hear the I Choose Home NJ message that “a nursing home may not be the only option.” I educate staff, residents, families, and health care professionals about the program, and search for individuals who have been living 90+ days in a facility, are Medicaid eligible, and who want to return to the community. Anyone familiar with Northeast Jersey can imagine that my GPS is my new best friend! I have had many opportunities to “re-calculate” my way through side streets and back roads.

Arriving at any skilled nursing facility is the best part of my day. Prior to this job, I worked for 20 years as a recreation therapist in nursing homes, and it is where I am most at home. I make connections easily with residents and we form a lasting rapport. My strong sense of advocacy makes it easy for me to discuss a person’s desire to return home, and to make the necessary connections and referrals to explore all of their possible living options.

A resident in Hudson County recently called me to ask a question to which he already knew the answer. I asked him, “Carl, why did you really call me?” His reply, “I really just wanted to chat.” Carl is in the process of transitioning back to the community with the support of Medicaid’s Global Options program and I Choose Home NJ. His greatest wish was that placement be found for him near water as he is an avid fisherman. It is these unique traits and characteristics in the people I meet that I take to heart and feel so strongly about.

Attending community outreach events has been an eye-opening experience for me. Recently, at the Caregiver Expo at the Bergen County ADRC, I was humbled to talk to many caregivers and learn what their daily lives are like. The caregivers in this state are often the backbone to the people we are helping to move back to the community. Children, spouses and siblings are the support staff that often goes unnoticed and unpaid. One caregiver son, caring for his mother since she returned from a nursing home, held back tears as he explained that his mother “was the best mother in the world - she took care of me, now it is my turn to take care of her.” This level of commitment and emotionality is something that the I Choose Home NJ staff witness often. It is moving and rewarding to help facilitate these types of resource connections and to strengthen bonds between families.

When I left work as a recreational therapist, one of the things I had to say goodbye to was twenty years of calling BINGO. However, in my first month as an ICHNJ Coordinator, I discovered that I could use my recreation skills to advance the I Choose Home NJ message, using Residents Rights Bingo as a platform to talk about choices that residents have, including where they want to live and how/where they want to receive their care. This is a great example of how the I Choose Home NJ Team is using each staff member’s strength to advance our message of deinstitutionalization. In a recent, very spirited game of BINGO, an elderly woman told me, “Well sweetheart, you get to call Bingo until you retire, then you get to play Bingo.” I am not making any predictions, but I have a feeling I may be “BINGO’d” out by that time…

Every day that I get into my car and travel to a new destination I know that I am given the responsibility to make a difference. I take this work and the purpose it serves seriously and with determination. The connections that I have made professionally and personally continue to be avenues of growth for me as an individual, a licensed Recreation Therapist, and most important, as an Advocate.

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