St. Paul’s PACE supports seniors’ independence

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James Bray has lived in El Cajon at the Silvercrest Residences for around seven years. He prefers to be called “Jim.” 

A widower, he lives independently in an apartment that he shares with his tortie-point cat, Freda. He has balance problems and navigates his rooms cautiously, walking with a cane or steadying himself against furniture and walls.

James Bray has lived in El Cajon at the Silvercrest Residences for around seven years. He prefers to be called “Jim.” 

A widower, he lives independently in an apartment that he shares with his tortie-point cat, Freda. He has balance problems and navigates his rooms cautiously, walking with a cane or steadying himself against furniture and walls.

Jim and his wife landed at Silvercrest apartments, which are assisted living units managed by the Salvation Army’s El Cajon Corps, after a series of moves precipitated by her seriously declining health in their former home in Oklahoma. The couple had returned to southern California to be nearer to two of their sons, and for the warmer climate, better suited for soothing fragile bones and aging bodies.

Bray described his wife of 54 years as having been “a real people person.” Despite suffering from heart trouble, diabetes and failing kidneys, she sought an activities and health support program for seniors that the couple could join together. They applied to St. Paul’s Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly, because they had heard PACE might be opening a day center nearby in El Cajon. They were accepted for participation in what turned out to be the newest facility, but located in Chula Vista, during the fall of 2013.

“She loved the program,” Jim said, but her deteriorating health made their attendance sporadic. She died about a year ago.

Bray felt devastated and lost. He had been devoting his days to caring for his wife. He asked himself, what was he to do now? He continued intermittently with PACE but said most of the time he sat in his room, moping. He contracted pneumonia, sank into depression, and became upset with the doctors about his heavy schedule of prescribed medications. Bray described himself as “angry” and “suicidal” while spring turned into autumn of 2014. “I was killing myself,” he said. He formally quit PACE in October, in what he calls “the worst mistake of my life.”

But neither the caring staffers at PACE nor his son James Jr. would let him sink further into loss and despair without intervening. James Jr. convinced his father to at least try a return visit to PACE by November.

Bray renewed his participation on January 1. “PACE is a lifeline,” he says today. A PACE transportation bus picks him up for the hour’s drive to Chula Vista every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. He spends morning through early afternoon hours with a group of six or seven other PACE clients he has befriended for companionship and mutual support. He is taking less medication, sleeping and eating better, experiencing fewer nightmares.

The program is open to those 55 years of age or older who can safely live on their own but still need special care at the state-set “skilled nursing level of care.” The Chula Vista facility serves not only elderly residents of South County communities but also those living in East County’s areas of Santee, Lakeside, San Carlos, El Cajon, La Mesa, Lemon Grove, Spring Valley and Jamul. This is an integrated managed care health plan, which is offered free of charge to seniors on Medi-Cal, with their medications also provided without cost. More well to do clients pay monthly premiums.

Callie Howard is the nursing director who supervises St. Paul’s PACE at Chula Vista, and Bray calls her an “angel.” She says that when she met Bray and his wife, they all “hit it off really well.” A nurse for over a decade, Howard has been at the South County facility since its August 2012 opening. She says the program has been growing steadily since then, when ten to twelve seniors transferred from the downtown site. More than 200 now participate at the Chula Vista location, and eight to 12 new enrollees join each month.

The enrollment procedure begins with a phone call between a potential client and an enrollment specialist. Howard attributes her dedication to elder care to the “big influence” her grandmother had on Howard’s life.

Howard said, “I still love coming to work every day. I can’t think of an area I’d rather work in.”

Her favorite aspect of the work is interacting and providing care for the participants. After a moment’s reflection, Howard identifies her biggest challenge as maintaining her work-life balance so that she has “me time.” Howard has lived in La Mesa for 11 years with her Navy chief husband and 13-year-old son.

Howard describes the PACE services as “truly all-inclusive,” to help elders improve their quality of life as a whole. Bray concurs that the program respects the entire person, aiding with physical, mental and spiritual illnesses. (The Episcopal Church owns PACE facilities and accepts seniors without discrimination).

Howard praises the center’s interdisciplinary approach for its effectiveness. She says all team members contribute to each client’s care, sharing ideas and information. She describes the team as being “like a big family” with the goal of finding the best for each participant. “Everyone here really does care,” she sums up.

“People here can go from one foot into a nursing home to being able to live at home,” Howard said. “With the support, they can live independently. It all comes down to love and support.”

Bray believes he would have died, if not for this program. “PACE is wonderful,” he concludes. “There is nobody in the world who wouldn’t benefit from a program like this.” Howard agrees, “We have communication and education in abundance here, and the results are absolutely wonderful.”

More information and inquiries about eligibility can be found by calling (619) 271-7100 or exploring online at www.StPaulsPACE.org.

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