What started out as a ride to a routine doctor’s appointment ended with an ambulance ride and an emergency surgery.
Last week, Carmel Froemke, the team lead for Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota’s Aging Life Care Program (ALC), was contacted by a guardianship agency about a man named Arthur* who needed transportation to a dialysis appointment the next day. He had only recently been released from the hospital after a three-month-long stay, and he would typically ride the Paratransit bus to his appointments. However, knowing Arthur’s medical history, his doctor requested he be escorted to his appointment.
“The agency didn’t really know where to turn or who to reach out to,” said Froemke. “I feel like LSS really has that reputation in the community of being somebody that you can call for immediate support and have services that are flexible enough to jump right in and do what needs to be done.”
Of course, Froemke was more than willing to help. But after she dropped Arthur off for treatment, she received another call from the guardianship agency.
A plan was in place for Arthur to transition into an assisted living facility in the coming weeks, but he was required to be tested for COVID-19 before he could move there. Agency staff asked if Carmel would be willing to take Arthur to the walk-in clinic so he could be tested.
So, after dialysis, Froemke drove Arthur to be tested for the coronavirus. While she was driving, she remembered that Arthur mentioned earlier in the day that he had a painful infection in his foot. Once they reached the clinic, Froemke mentioned the infection to the nurse to make sure the doctor would take a look at his toe as well.
"Turns out, his toe was severely infected," Froemke said. "It was kind of like nothing I'd seen before. The doctor came in and said, 'This isn't good at all.'"
Arthur was rushed by ambulance to the hospital for an emergency amputation. Thankfully, he is recovering well and plans are still in place for him to transition to the assisted living facility within the next few weeks.
“I hate to think about what could have happened if he wouldn’t have gotten to dialysis that day,” said Froemke.
ALC staff find creative ways to get the job done
As all programs and services at LSSND are modifying their delivery methods, Aging Life Care
in a unique position. Because so many of its clients are vulnerable and in need of extra care, sometimes remote services aren’t an option. Additionally, some clients are hard of hearing or do not have access to a phone.
In those cases, ALC care coordinators are going above and beyond to ensure that all of their clients’ basic needs continue to be met. Whether it be arranging transportation for an urgent medical appointment or making sure clients have access to groceries and nutritious meals, care coordinators are on the front lines for their clients.
“We are still working,” said Froemke. “We’re meeting with our clients — maybe in a little bit different format — but we are still trying to meet their needs, and most of all, address their anxieties about the future and the situation. We are working really hard to ensure that their basic needs are met — that’s our biggest priority.”
While the necessary in-person care continues, ALC Care Coordinators have transitioned to remote service delivery whenever possible. In addition to providing the same level of care, ALC is now providing a daily dial-in support group as well as an option to receive daily texts.
“We are offering a daily support group for clients to call in for socialization, positive support and jokes, to answer questions, provide tips and dispel myths regarding safety and COVID-19,” said Froemke. “We also send out daily texts to those who want them.”
Daily phone calls can make all the difference
For Merlin*, a daily phone call to ease his anxieties and loneliness makes a world of difference. A few months ago, he was diagnosed with cancer. As scary and uncertain as his diagnosis was, his fears were only made worse when the coronavirus outbreak began. Already vulnerable because of his age, Merlin’s cancer treatments make his risk of getting sick even higher.
Thanks to Froemke, Merlin can rely on someone to consistently check in on him and provide for all his basic needs.
“Care coordination is vital,” said Froemke. “It’s so important to have somebody who older adults can turn to for help in any situation. It saves seniors a lot of energy and time and frustration to be able to have a place to go where they can get answers to their questions.”
If you know of an individual who is elderly, disabled or may need extra support from an experienced and compassionate professional during this time, visit https://www.lssnd.org/aging-life-care or contact Carmel Froemke (firstname.lastname@example.org; 218-284-6242).
Read more about what LSS is doing to support seniors during this time here.
Aging Life Care connects older adults (and those with chronic medical or mental health needs) with a trusted adviser/coordinator to help navigate the many complex issues that come with changes in health and/or living situations. A sliding fee scale is available based on income and ability to pay.
– By Micayla Bitz
*Clients’ names changed to protect confidentiality.