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Nursing Home or Your Home:
LIFE Provides a Choice!

What are the options for the oldest, frailest, most challenged individuals in Allegheny County? The only answer used to be, “Put them in a nursing home.”

Today, there is a program called “LIFE,” which stands for Living Independence for the Elderly. There, financially eligible citizens who are certified by the Department of Aging to be “nursing facility eligible” can receive comprehensive care at no charge.

LIFE is part of a national program called PACE (Program for All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, available in 29 states.

To be eligible for a LIFE program, participants must: a) be 55 or older, b) be certified Medical Assistance eligible by the Department of Public Welfare or be able to privately pay; c) live in Allegheny County; d) meet eligibility criteria for nursing home care; e) receive all health and medical care through LIFE; and f) have health problems that prevent them from living independently and safely at home without the help of LIFE.

The model of care features a team approach. Each day, a team of roughly 10-15 care workers including a nurse, physician, social worker, physical therapist, occupational therapist, nutritionist, personal care aids and more meet with the center manager to review care for that center’s participants.

Services include onsite physician/medical supervision, nursing care, physical therapy, occupational therapy, recreational therapy, activities and exercise, lunch, nutritional counseling, social services, dentistry, audiology, optometry, podiatry and more. Transportation is provided to/from day health centers. Home- services are provided as needed. The program also covers all in-network special services such as appropriate emergency room visits, hospitalizations, surgeries, etc.

PACE Around the USA

The Pennsylvania LIFE programs are modeled after a relatively small Asian community in the San Francisco area. In 1971, they retained Marie-Louise Ansak to study the feasibility of building a nursing home in the community. She found that instituting a nursing home would be both financially unfeasible and culturally inappropriate. Instead, she obtained funding to train health care workers, and outlined a comprehensive system of care combining all necessary medical and social services, based on the British day hospital model. Two years later they opened On-Lok, one of the nation’s first adult day health centers.

In 1979, On Lok received a four-year Department of Health and Human Services grant to develop a consolidated model of delivering care to persons with long term care needs, and in 1983 they were allowed to test a new financing system that pays the program a fixed amount each month for each person in the program.

In 1986, federal legislation extended On Lok’s new financing system and allowed 10 additional organizations to replicate On Lok’s service delivery and funding model in other parts of the country. In 1994, with support of On Lok, the national Program for All Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) was formed. LIFE programs actually are PACE programs, but as PACE was already trademarked in Pennsylvania (Pharmaceutical Assistance Contract for the Elderly), the name LIFE (Living Independence for the Elderly) was established. Today there are 89 PACE/LIFE programs in 29 states, led by Pennsylvania who has 21.

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Boomers Resource Guide is a special supplement to the Senior Citizen's Guide