February 19 is National Caregivers Day! Today on the blog we speak with Roberta Hirshon of Jewish Family Services (JFS). A staple in the community for decades, JFS provides assistance across the lifespan, including their newly expanded older adult program WISE.
Ahead of the Curve: If you had to give an “elevator speech” about what your organization does, how would you describe it?
Roberta Hirson: I am a WISE (Washtenaw Integrated Senior Experience) Social Worker and CARES (Caregiver Assessment Respite Education and Support) Project Manager at Jewish Family Services (JFS) of Washtenaw County. JFS is a private, non- profit agency whose mission is to create solutions, promote dignity and inspire humanity. JFS provides an array of services including transportation, a specialty food pantry, meal delivery, comprehensive aging services and innovative programming to meet the burgeoning need for senior services.
The CARES program, under the WISE umbrella, aims to improve the lives of caregivers who care for someone 60+ and live in Washtenaw County by providing a comprehensive assessment of caregiver needs and customized services to meet those needs. Services include a no-cost respite program (up to 36 hours), specialized educational programming, Caregiver Consultations (specific counseling around individual/family caregiver needs), Caregiver Conversations support groups, care management, resource advocacy and wrap around services. Every situation is unique and CARES staff work closely with each family to understand and support their needs.
AOTC: Walk me through the step-by-step process. What happens when you get a phone call/referral?
RH: A caregiver calls the main JFS phone number (734-769-0209) and is connected to a staff member who conducts a screening and then makes a referral to the CARES program. A CARES team member calls the caregiver within 2 business days. That first call concentrates on which services the caregiver is interested in and assesses the caregiver’s overall situation, including physical and emotional health, physical stamina, financial security and perceived personal freedom. Once the assessment is completed, the caregiver is enrolled in the appropriate CARES offerings. Caregivers receive regular check-ins from CARES team members. Caregivers are reassessed at 90 and 180 days to evaluate whether there is improvement in caregiver wellbeing.
AOTC: What organizations do you work closely with?
RH: Our program staff make referrals to organizations throughout the community to support caregivers with needed resources. We work closely with Homewatch Caregivers who staff our respite care program. JFS CARES and Arbor Hospice are sponsoring a support group for hospice and palliative caregivers. JFS CARES also partners with many faith-based organizations– including Beth Israel Congregation, Temple Beth Emeth, First Presbyterian Church of Ann Arbor, Journey of Faith, First Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Westminster Presbyterian Church– who host the Caregiver Conversations support group. Due to Covid-19, the group is currently meeting virtually.
AOTC: What are some things you wish the public knew about your role?
RH: I am amazed every day by the strength and courage of the caregivers with whom I work. Their stories are unique and their challenges are enormous.
AOTC: What tips do you have for someone with a loved one that’s going through this issue/needs assistance?
RH: Get help before your situation becomes overwhelming or a crisis occurs. Seek the support of professionals who can assist you in navigating the often confusing caregiver arena. Be as open as possible to the options available to you, and try not to limit those options based on what you thought your life would be like before you became a caregiver. Until you are a caregiver it is difficult to truly understand the demands.
AOTC: Is there anything you would like to add?
RH: Caregiving can be stressful and difficult. It is critical that caregivers take care of themselves first so they have the energy and strength to care for their loved ones. Take advantage of all the supports available in the community.
Thank you to Roberta for sharing information about this valuable community program! You can learn more about JFS programs by calling (734) 971-0209 or visiting their website.