Thursday marked the end of Dianne Jacobson's nearly 23-year career working with older adults, the last eight of which were spent as the director of the Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) of Oneida County.
An open house was held at the ADRC in celebration of recent milestones at the agency and to offer Jacobson's many clients an opportunity to say their goodbyes.
Jacobson's assistant, Joel Gottsacker, will serve as interim director for the immediate future.
"March would have made 23 years," Jacobson said, referring to the length of her career. "We started as the Department on Aging, of course, then last January we rebranded under one name, like most of the state is, as the Aging and Disability Resource Center of Oneida County."
Jacobson noted the public often refers to the ADRC as "the senior center," but that is just one of the programs offered at the center, which is located across the parking lot from Trig's.
"We used to be up near Hodag Park where that Church (of Christ) is now," Jacobson said. "People for years, and even now, they will say 'over at the senior center,' but that is just one of the things we operate. We do services for caregivers, we do Meals on Wheels, we have seven dining sites in the county, we have volunteer drivers for medical appointments. But at the ADRC, we have five professionals that can help people with the services and options they need to stay home living healthy and happy."
As Jacobson explained, the Aging and Disability Resource Center concept was first piloted in Wisconsin 22 years ago and has grown steadily ever since.
"Oneida County first started an ADRC like seven-and-a-half years ago, and last year we pulled out of the regional model and went to a standalone and rebranded with one name," she explained.
Inside the ADRC, which takes up the entire ground floor of the building, are classrooms where "fitness classes, card classes," and educational opportunities await.
Before the ADRC moved into the building, Job Service was housed there.
"We will have been in this building eight years this June," Jacobson said. "Trig Solberg built this (building) and he rented to Job Service, which was in this part, and Nicolet College was in the back part of the first floor. We (now) have the whole first floor and (Oneida County) Public Health has the second floor."
Jacobson said one of the misconceptions ADRC staff has had to work to overcome is that it is strictly a "senior center."
"We have a variety of activities that happen all day," Jacobson said. "And that's why when people see us, they think of senior center because that is what is so visible. We really have staff that travel the county meeting in people's homes, talking to them on the phone; it doesn't all happen here."
She said the misconception even extends to the people who could benefit the most from the services the ADRC provides.
"There is a stigma that some people have, we have heard 80-year-olds say they're not old enough to go there. It's seen as a negative, senior center," Jacobson said. "We've always tried to not be stuck under that heading. We've actually had thousands of people come through. I've had some great role models for retirement. I mean, most of my career has been with older adults, so I've seen people who've retired well, and people who don't retire well. So I've actually had some good role models on how to retire well, and not feel like you don't have purpose."
Jacobson said the transition to the ADRC model is the biggest change she experienced in her career.
"Prior to eight years ago, when Oneida County didn't have an aging and disability resource center, some people would come to us for advice and information," Jacobson said. "Or they would go to other source of information."
She said that the number one thing that people seek information on is services to help them stay in their homes longer.
"It wasn't clarified to the public, like where can you go (to get this information)," Jacobson said. "We had some good staff that could help people, but it wasn't until we became the ADRC that we had professionals that are trained in how to help somebody figure out what they need in order to stay home."
Jacobson said another major misconception that she and the ADRC staff had to dispel was that if the county came in and saw how a particular older adult was living, "that they would take me away."
"The goal is to help people stay in their home, it's the cheapest place for them to live, let's bring services in," Jacobson said.
Bringing services to the people, as opposed to making them come to a central location to receive them, was one of the biggest changes that the ADRC brought.
"Even 12 years ago, there was not all the home health agencies that we have now," Jacobson said. "There are a lot of agencies now that hire people to go into homes to clean, bathe (the clients) and do all kinds of stuff that they didn't use to have. We can always use more, it's always a problem for those folks to find enough workers."
Jacobson noted that moving into a nursing home is important for those people who need round the clock critical care, but a nursing home is also "the most expensive place that you can be."
"When people run out of their own money, it's the government that is paying for it," Jacobson said. "So if they run out of the money to live in the nursing home, there's Medicaid - and that's a great program - for people who need the nursing home level of care, 24-hour nursing, that's important. But it isn't like when your grandmother or great-grandmother couldn't live at home anymore, that was pretty much the option, unless family lived nearby. But nowadays, there's way more options."
She also cited the growth of assisted living facilities, independent apartments where services can come in as how the care for seniors and the disabled have changed since she started.
"Government was actually very proactive. Sometimes it's hard for the government to be proactive, sometimes they're more reactive," Jacobson said. "And government realized we got all these Baby Boomers coming, and if the only option for Baby Boomers was to move into an expensive nursing home, run out of money and then the government pays for it, we can't afford that. So they created the Aging and Disability Resource Centers on the front end to help give people information and options so they could use their own money more wisely, so they could live at home longer and avoid expensive nursing home placement."
Nationally, Wisconsin is seen as a leader for being one of the first to create ADRCs in each county, she added.
"If you have a good ADRC giving good advice upfront, you avoid the expensive end," she said.
Jacobson said the Oneida County board of supervisors has been very supportive of the ADRC concept and noted the county's share of the funding has been relatively small.
"Oneida County is a really good place to age because the county is very supportive of our programs," she said. "Eight years ago when we moved into this facility, that was a major step up in what we could offer in programs and services, and Oneida County has always been very supportive of us. And yet, only 15 percent of our total budget is tax levy. That's just a small sliver that is tax levy, the majority is state and federal grants and program income."
Revenue also comes in via clients who come in to take classes or enjoy a meal, she added.
"We're pretty efficient," Jacobson said. "When you figure that 30 percent of our population in this county is 60 or older, and they're only putting in 15 percent of our budget, that's a pretty good bang for your buck."
Now that she is "retired," Jacobson said she intends to visit the ADRC on a regular basis.
"We offer a Chef's Salad lunch option so you don't have to eat the hot meal," she said. "I actually look forward to calling some of my girlfriends who are retired and say 'hey, let's just order salads and go to the ADRC.' So I plan on coming here and being a diner and taking part in things, too."
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernews online.com.
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