The Village Movement Senior Care

Helping hands - The village movement is transforming senior care in New Hampshire and beyond

"Can I get a ride?” It may seem an innocuous enough request, but for Pat Hummel, 72, it meant asking family and friends to drive her repeatedly from her condo in Peterborough to specialist appointments in both Nashua and Keene. Although she can motor around town, Hummel’s medical condition prevents her from driving any farther.

“It’s a hard thing to accept, that I know I shouldn’t be driving the car those distances. Even though I can drive locally, I can’t drive those trips,” she says. And while her son and daughter both live nearby, they and their spouses both have full-time jobs.

“Everybody asks ‘Do you have family?,’ but my kids are both working, and my grandson has been a big help, but he has his own schooling.” And, she adds, you can only rely on asking friends so many times before feeling like you’ve used up their goodwill. “You try to stay independent and not ask, but there’s a point that you just have to find a way to get help,” she says.

Luckily, last year Hummel saw a posting at the local wellness center in Peterborough for Monadnock at Home, a membership organization catering to seniors in nine towns in the Monadnock Region. The group is one of a growing number, both in New Hampshire as well as around the country, part of the “village movement,” connecting like-minded people with an array of services to help them stay in their own homes as they get older.

According to AARP, 90 percent of senior citizens said they wanted to stay in their houses as long as possible, so in terms of providing solutions to physical and logistical roadblocks that might prevent that, the village movement makes a lot of sense. It’s all about options.

“I had two parents who both died in nursing homes — my mother’s was a long, drawn-out process with Alzheimer’s, and my dad had a series of strokes,” says Rick Harnden, chair of Monadnock at Home village network. “Like so many of my generation I saw what happened with my own parents and that got me motivated to find another solution.”

Originating in Beacon Hill more than a decade ago, the village concept has now spread rapidly throughout the country. Each village is independent and diverse, and each works a little differently depending on the layout and makeup of the community or village it’s serving. However, they all share the common goal of being able to age in place with dignity.

The basic structure works like this: Members pay a fee to obtain services and day-to-day needs (transportation and home maintenance are tops on the list for most) from individuals and businesses who have been vetted and approved by the organization. At its simplest, the village acts as a collaboration between the members and providers to mimic the same services found in assisted living places, in a cost-effective manner, while remaining at home.

"It’s the wave of the future."

Consider the financial benefits: The average cost of assisted living in New Hampshire is $3,000 per month. Compare that with the membership costs to belong to one of the village networks in New Hampshire — annual yearly memberships range from $300–$600 — and it’s clear that the village concept is something New Hampshire seniors who want to stay in their own homes can really embrace. Hummel, who says a senior community is just “not going to work for me,” wants to stay where she is. “It’s the best financial option I have right now.”

Although the Village Network Inc. in Nashua is still in development, its business plan notes that villages are, in a way, nothing more than a modern-day replacement for close-knit family support. “It’s the wave of the future,” says Suzanne Koperniak, one of the organizers of the Nashua village. “This is focusing on local, community-based care. We are taking care of our people.” It also alleviates some stress for those who might not live close to their aging parents and want to be sure they are getting help they need and not being ripped off.

A former astrophysicist with NASA, Rick Harnden was semi-retired in 2005 and got involved with the steering committee for the Monadnock group about a year later because, he says good-naturedly, friends suggested that he needed something to do. “We had a dozen folks tearing their hair out” and struggling to come up with a plan for putting together a variety of services for stay-at-home seniors, says Harnden, when suddenly the Beacon Hill Village garnered national publicity. The Boston-based group also put together a basic how-to guide in 2006 for those looking to form their own villages. Finally, people suddenly had an example to follow and didn’t have to start from scratch, says Harnden. 

The downside to the media attention, however, was that the Beacon Hill Village was overwhelmed with inquiries and spending way too much time addressing questions from those wanting to start their own organizations. The Village to Village (VtV) Network was launched in response to those growing needs from around the country, not the least of which, says Harnden — who now sits on the advisory council of VtV in addition to the Monadnock at Home board — was to create a database to maintain information on membership and the “fabulous networking that goes on as a result.”

Similar to Monadnock at Home, the idea for At Home in Newbury/New London/Springfield/Sunapee/Sutton/Wilmot was started about six years ago by a group of four nurses who asked themselves, “What’s going to happen to us?” says David Royle, executive director of that village, and a year and a half ago the organization opened its doors. Like other villages, At Home is not trying to duplicate services already in place in the communities, but to work in conjunction with them. For example, says Royle, the Kearsarge Council on Aging (COA) already provides transportation, but only if the senior is mobile. If a member needs assistance getting to the car, then At Home will provide a ride for them.

Says Sean Lyon, president of the At Home board, “We have a large number of folks volunteering all the time providing incredible services to their communities. We are trying to use volunteers in a more coordinated manner, as well as providing background checks to improve the safety of seniors who are a vulnerable population.”

There is a sense of give and take for members as well; they can ask for help when needed, but also be a part of the volunteers who may need assistance in other areas. For instance, one member might need bookkeeping help but turn around and help another member with his or her plumbing needs. Another member might need help shoveling in the winter but volunteer his or her computer programming expertise to another. It’s all so very, well, neighborly.

Other members join but don’t need services just yet. It’s more like an insurance policy. “Younger members think it’s a great idea and want it to be here when we do need it,” says Harnden. “You can never tell what’s going to happen tomorrow and eventually if we live longer we’re going to need it.”

Of course, eventually “aging out” of the village can happen but being a member can often delay it.

Along with transportation help, grocery delivery, discounts on acupuncture and even getting odd jobs around her condo accomplished, Hummel says that being a member of her village has dramatically reduced her level of stress. “This might sound drastic,” she says, choking up, “but I could have given up hope.

These people have been outstanding at pulling resources together. It’s amazing what they have done.” 

Categories: Seniors