Respite care offers lifeline to family members

Lifespan Respite caregiver Beckie Manley (right) gives special care to 85-year-old Horace Hamm who suffers from dementia, providing his wife, Iris Hamm (left), a break from the constant responsibility. Photo by Rocky Wilson

The need for respite caregivers has never been more acute. The population is aging and family members taking care of chronically ill or disabled children, or aged spouses, are getting tired.

Iris Hamm of Lostine took a night off last week to visit her oldest son in Weston. The visit was noteworthy in that it marked the first time in the past six years that she was away from husband Horace Hamm who suffers from dementia.

Respite caregivers Beckie Manley and Rene' Princena took care of the 85 year old gentleman while Iris was away.

"It was great as far as I was concerned," says Iris Hamm, 77, who is now mulling an offer from another son wanting to pick her up by airplane for a brief visit in Sandy. Before quitting her job to take care of Horace full time Iris had worked 24 years at Wallowa Memorial Hospital as a ward clerk. "I like helping people," she says.

She knew it was time to stay at home with Horace when the retired logger began turning off the heating stove and complaining about being cold.

The Iris Hamms in our society are many in number. Statistics from the state level say that more than one quarter of the adult population (26.6 percent) has provided care for a chronically ill, disabled, or aged family member during the past year. It also notes that people over 85 years of age are the fastest growing segment of the population. The same state printout says that 61 percent of the intensive caregivers, like Iris Hamm, have suffered from depression.

Which makes the job of respite caregiver so very important.

In Wallowa County the Lifespan Respite program comes under the umbrella of Community Connection and is coordinated by Sherry Robb. Robb says the program has 12 registered caregivers willing to go into a home to take care of children, foster care youth or adults for any span of time ranging from an evening to overnight to weekends to longer. The caregivers are trained and given a background criminal check before they are added to the list.

Robb works with the intensive caregiver to get the most desirable match: a match to give the best care to the patient and give the most peace of mind to the intensive caregiver who is relinquishing control of a familiar environment.

Community Connection first came in contact with Iris Hamm about 1 1/2 years ago when the agency helped pay the salary of Horace's niece from Alabama who came to the county to help care for her uncle. The agency worked as an advocate Iris Hamm, helping in the process which eventually kicked in Iris and Horace's insurance to pay niece Jenny Davis and, later, to pay Manley and Princena who began helping out in January of 2003.

"I couldn't do without them," says Hamm of the two caregivers. "They are my family, too."

Manley is paid to work four half-days each week while Princena works Fridays and Saturdays, the latter for six hours to ennable Iris to tend to Lostine's transfer station, a part time job she inherited from Horace who took on the position after his retirement from the woods in 1976.

Iris took and benefitted from a caregiver class put on by Community Connection, describing the experience as "absolutely great." Such classes are routinely given to potential and/or active caregivers and, says Robb, are given two hours each week for six weeks.

Manley is a former certified nursing assistant who is studying to become a Registered Nurse. "Most of my job is supporting Iris," she says. In talking about the occasionally coherent patient whose ambulatory skills vary from day to day, Manley says, "If you are gentle and careful, and show lots of kindness he really responds."

Identifying families in need of respite caregivers as well as identifying possible caregivers is an ongoing battle. Anyone wishing more information on the Lifespan Respite program in Wallowa County can phone Robb at 426-0221.

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