Advocates program continues to grow, expand

When a Center Grove area woman was moving her own mother into an assisted living facility, she spent hours on paperwork, making sure all the details for her mother’s needs were known and met.

That move made Linda Krueger think about what a person would do if they didn’t have family to help them with the transition.

Now, Krueger is spending several hours each month helping two men who don’t have anyone else to advocate for them. Both men live in a rehabilitation facility, and don’t have family members who can help them sort through the details of their care, their finances and government assistance programs, such as Medicare, Krueger said.

“That’s why we need people to help,” Krueger said.

“It’s fulfilling for me to think I am filling that need for someone who doesn’t have a son or daughter or family member to help.”

Krueger is one of 10 volunteers with the Johnson County Volunteer Advocates for Seniors and Incapacitated Adults program, which pairs advocates with seniors or other adults who need a voice to speak for them in court cases or their everyday lives.

The program, which started last year, is geared toward helping adults — especially seniors — who have no family, don’t have family in the area or whose family unfortunately is unwilling or unable to help them, program director Joe Erickson said.

Currently, the program has 15 adults in need, and organizers expect to continue adding more now that word of the program is spreading. A helping agency in Marion County is referring local seniors now that Johnson County has its own program, and other counties could be included in the future as well, he said. When the program was first formed, the state set a goal for Johnson County to be helping 10 seniors by the end of this year, and chances are likely that twice as many people will be getting help by the end of 2017, he said.

“I think that is just scratching the surface. There are so many facilities still that are not aware of what we do,” Erickson said.

The need is continuing to grow, especially with more people in assisted living facilities in the county as the population ages and more centers open to fill the need, he said. Between 2010 and 2015, the average age of Johnson County residents ticked up from 36 to 37, and the percent of residents over age 65 reached 13 percent from less than 12 percent, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.

The focus of the program now is to both grow the number of volunteers and spread the word about what they do and the services they offer to local facilities so they can help the people who need it most, he said. He has been talking with those local facilities, helping agencies and township trustees to let them know what the program is and how they can help, he said.

And in order to keep up with the need, the program has to have more volunteers, he said. Erickson is hoping to get 12 more volunteers, he said. The program is also hosting a training later this month.

Many of the volunteers Erickson has now are retired and the program is important to them because they are starting to think of what they will need as they age, he said. Volunteers typically spend eight to 10 hours a month on their case, visiting the senior they are helping and the facility where they are living, to find out what their needs are and how the center is meeting them, he said. As their needs change, they are making sure their care is keeping up, such as by calling their doctor or pharmacy, he said.

Krueger spends several hours a month on her two cases, depending on what the men she is helping need. For example, one of the men needed to apply for Medicaid, which was a time-consuming process, but the other is already receiving Medicaid benefits, she said.

She had initially been interested in volunteering for the county’s court-appointed special advocates program, which helps children often in neglect or abuse situations, but she worried she would be too emotional about cases involving children. Then, she heard about the senior advocates program and wanted to get involved, she said.

Not only is she able to help people, but she is learning all about the programs and services available to seniors as they age, she said.

“If you enjoy helping people at all, it is so fulfilling,” she said.

She visits the men a few times a month to check on them. Sometimes, all they need is new underwear or sweatshirts, but someone has to be able to get those for them. And she is able to do that, she said.

Krueger was surprised at how great the need is for people like her once she got involved in the program, and she encourages others to try it, she said.

“It’s very rewarding just to know that you have helped someone,” she said.

At a glance

Here is a look at how you can get involved with the Johnson County Volunteer Advocates for Seniors and Incapacitated Adults, or VASIA, program:

Submit an application to volunteer. For more information and to get the application, visit the program’s website at https://www.jcvasia.org/ or contact director Joe Erickson at 317-346-4414 or by email at jerickson@co.johnson.in.us.

Have an interview with Erickson.

Attend training. The next training sessions will be from 5:30 to 9 p.m. Sept. 19 through 21 at First Presbyterian Church, 100 E. Madison St., Franklin.

Author photo
Annie Goeller is managing editor of the Daily Journal. She can be reached at agoeller@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2718.