For seniors: How to find help you can trust

Recent MI Reporter article by >Betsy Zuber, MIYFS Senior Services

One of the most challenging requests that I get from older residents on Mercer Island is how to find someone to come and do a minor home repair or to change a light bulb in a cathedral ceiling or find a “trusted” house cleaner or find a “live-in” to help with household needs.

It is hard because we do not have a clearing house of providers that have been vetted to be trustworthy.

We hear all too often of people preying on an older person to do work on the house and then run off with the money. Often I spend time discussing how to go about finding a service or person for the older resident to hire. It takes time, research and the ability to figure out what to do if there is a problem.

Many people call upon their family or neighbors to help out, or give them a referral of someone they have used in the past.

Actually, word of mouth and asking others who they have used is a great way to start the process. And asking the provider of service to produce recommendations from other customers that you can then speak with is also very helpful. Now this does not mean that the process is infallible. Something can always go wrong even with much due diligence.

What to do? Is there a way to have a clearinghouse of trusted others somewhere to do this work? One such option is what North East Seattle Together (NEST) http://nestseattle.org is doing. They are a community driven non-profit that matches volunteers, and trusted business referrals so that older adults in their defined community can stay in their own homes. This is based on the “Beacon Hill Village” model from Boston.

Basically, there is a fee to join and pay per year and then a staff person(s) vet both volunteers and businesses to be referred to the member when a service is needed. It can be for any need the older adult has in order to stay as independent as possible in their own home. There are two other community organizations in Seattle providing the village concept: one in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, http://widerhorizonsvillage.org and one in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood, http://www.phinneycenter.org/village/.

Another model that another island is doing is Vashon Household Homeshare program, also a community driven non-profit. http://www.vashonhousehold.org.

As part of their overall housing program to keep residents living on the island they also provide a matching service for people who want to offer a home share situation to someone. They pre-screen and do a background check on both the person providing the home and the person looking to move in. There can be agreements in lieu of reduced or no rent to help with chores/maintenance around the house. Of course this depends on a good match being made and an understanding on how to resolve potential conflicts adequately.

There are some good models out there that Mercer Island could emulate as our boundaries are set and the prevailing wish of most older residents is to age in place (in their own home). And I don’t expect that desire to change with incoming senior generations. The statistics are there, many of us will probably live well into our 90s. So if that is true, are there different ways to plan and conceptualize how we age in our own community?

Betsy Zuber is the Geriatric Specialist for Mercer Island Youth and Family Services, a department of the City of Mercer Island. She provides social services to anyone who lives on Mercer Island 55+ and their families. You can reach her at 206-275-7752 or >Betsy Zuber, MS
betsy.zuber@mercergov.org.

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