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John Sylvester has been battling cancer for several years now. He knows that health challenges are just another part of getting older, and his illness has mostly been manageable.

But then, last month, he suffered a stroke that left him partially paralyzed. And now he’s in a frustrating bind. With the additional care he now needs, his modest fixed income is no longer enough to cover his Medi-Cal Share-of-Cost – the amount he’s required to pay out-of-pocket before the insurance kicks in. But his retirement is still technically too high to qualify for so-called free Medi-Cal. Sylvester is fighting hard to recover a little bit of mobility, but he’s afraid that, without some kind of physical therapy, he’ll spiral downhill quickly. He’d like to get a little help at home, but if he’s already unable to cover his medical bills, paying for an in-home caregiver is out of the question.

According to the U.S. Census, people over the age of 65 make up about a quarter of the Calistoga population – and that percentage is expected to rise as more Baby Boomers reach retirement age. Many Calistoga seniors live on modest means: about 60 percent of those who live in one of the local mobile home parks qualify as low- to very low-income. That means that Sylvester isn’t alone: a large proportion of Calistoga’s elderly can’t afford the care and other supports they need to manage the challenges that come with getting older. Indeed, a study by Calistoga Affordable Housing showed that as many as 40 percent of senior mobile home residents faced difficult spending decisions – like having to choose between buying groceries and paying their bills.

A lot of Calistoga seniors live alone. And when you face a disability, or another health challenge that makes it hard to leave the house, that can easily lead to isolation and worsening health – especially when in-home care is so cost-prohibitive. With the right network of support, however, living by yourself can be a wonderful way to maintain a sense of independence and quality of life.

That’s why UpValley Family Centers is collaborating with a coalition of several senior-serving partner organizations to build a strong, local infrastructure of resources that can help seniors like Sylvester stay in their own homes, reduce isolation, access the care they need, and maintain a sense of wellness.

With generous support from the City of Calistoga, we partner with providers across the county to bring free or low-cost services to Calistoga – things like mental health counseling, or emergency-preparedness resources. We’re also working to expand the pool of local in-home caregivers by coordinating trainings, facilitating background checks, and otherwise helping upvalley candidates meet the requirements for certification.

We work directly with seniors, too: our senior wellness team is knowledgeable about the local, state, and federal resources that may be able to help people address the issues they are facing – and they’re here to support clients through the daunting process of applications, eligibility determinations, and more. For example, our senior wellness staff have been working with Sylvester to help him qualify for State Disability with California’s Social Security Administration – which in turn will allow him to apply both for free Medi-Cal and the Department of Social Services’ In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS), which can cover the cost of an in-home caregiver. In the meantime, we’ve connected him with Mari Austad, a local caregiver who can help Sylvester with errands and some in-home care. While he waits for IHSS, we’re tapping into our Critical Needs Fund to help him pay her.

Austad also helps Sylvester make his way to the monthly lunchtime workshops that we host in partnership with Rianda House Senior Activity Center, providing local seniors with an opportunity to connect with peers, enjoy a free lunch, and participate in an engaging seminar or activity. This year we are focused on expanding our offer of senior-focused events: with funding provided by the St. Helena Hospital Foundation, we are working with local mobile home parks to develop and host a regular series of activities on-site, allowing more seniors to access resources, services, information, and social connections right on their doorstep.

If you would like more information about the senior-focused services provided at the UpValley Family Centers, please visit our Calistoga office or call (707) 341-3185.

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