The Winchendon Courier
April 2016

REGION — Adult Family Care may be based in Gardner, but the agency, which strives to help keep people at home and out of nursing homes and assisted living facilities, has clients throughout the region, including Winchendon, and program developer Sarah Janhunen believes AFC is providing an important service by doing so.

“People do better when they’re home. Independence means so much to them,” said Janhunen, who explained AFC not only works with families who are caring for relatives (though husbands and wives can’t qualify for the Medicaid-funded program if they’re one another’s chief caregiver), they help place people in homes with non-relative caregivers if the fit is right.

There are, of course, criteria which must be met to qualify. The person receiving the service must require help with at least one aspect of daily life, including bathing, eating, dressing, or simply getting up from a chair, must be unable to live on their own and has to be eligible for Mass Health.

“We’re working with 180 families all the way south to Whitinsville and we’ve started a pilot program in Lowell and while the numbers change with eligibility, we currently have about a half dozen families in Winchendon.

“We’re trying to get the word out in towns like Winchendon that we’re here and we might be able to offer an option
other than nursing homes,” noted Janhunen. “Sometimes families don’t know where to turn even though they need the services and they’re eligible to receive them. It’s a huge difference when people can stay home or be with a caregiver. It’s amazing.”

Adult Family Care is part of Alternatives, a company which runs a slew of programs designed to help people who have psychiatric or developmental disabilities. The first step to getting help is through a phone interview and the completion of the application forms. From there AFC will determine the eligibility and decide what services are needed.

“Caregiving is a hard job,” Janhunen pointed out. “They’re on the front lines and whatever we can do to help them, that’s what we want to do. Sometimes you’ll have people caring for aging parents or grandparents and the dynamics are different in every family, so we understand the caregivers are often likely to need a lot of support.”

For clients who are paired with non-relative caregivers, the latter is required to pass a CORI check and a thorough interview before being accepted.

“When people can stay home or be with another caregiver, and you see them being able to do things like go out to dinner, it’s really rewarding,” she reflected.

Through Medicaid, AFC is able to offer financial support to family members who are taking care of someone in their home. The annual stipend averages about $8,500 a year.

Janhunen, who became program developer four years ago, said she has enormous respect for the nurses and clinicians who make those monthly and sometimes more frequent, visits to clients. “They’ve got so much empathy,” she marveled.

Making a difference is what inspires Janhunen to go to work every morning. “It really does. Watching my grandfather was what made me want to help others and when you see the success stories, when you see people have options other than nursing homes or assisted living places, it makes you feel so good,” she said.

Janhunen and her staff are at 213 School St. in Gardner. They can be reached at (978) 958-0214.