For Ageless Ann, There’s No Place Like Home

Ann of Archbald

Our Geriatrics Service Line supports area seniors who aim to live independently

Of all the places Ann has traveled in her 95 years, from Atlantic City’s casino row to sunny California, she prefers one spot above all others – her home in Archbald, PA.

The borough native was born in the family homestead, and nearly a century later that’s where she lives and intends to stay. “Oh, they wanted me to move; they wanted me to go to a high-rise,” said Ann, a retired seamstress and a straight shooter who seems undiminished by age, or at least undaunted by staircases and solo living.

“I don’t want to go anywhere,” she said, talking from the comfort of her TV sitting area. “I was born here and I want to die here, if it happens that way. You never know.”

At The Wright Center for Community Health, we respect such wishes expressed by many older adults who say they prefer to stay in the familiar and comforting environments of their own homes, living independently. In fact, our Geriatrics Service Line was developed to enable and support aging in place by providing healthcare services in the community, including house calls and connections to community resources that prioritize the individual’s dignity, safety and capacity for independent living.

In Ann’s case, a major hurdle to remaining safe at home was the literal high step necessary to get into her bathtub. “I had a bar to hold, but I was petrified,” she said, noting her arthritic knee would sometimes complicate the process. “I didn’t want to fall.”

Ann voiced her concern during one of her routine healthcare appointments with Dr. Linda Thomas-Hemak, CEO of The Wright Center for Community Health and President of The Wright Center for Graduate Medical Education. Amanda Vommaro, a Community Health Worker at The Wright Center’s Mid Valley Practice in Jermyn, was soon enlisted to help by contacting Lackawanna County-based partner organizations and lobbying on Ann’s behalf for necessary bathroom renovations including timely installation of a walk-in shower stall with a very low clearance.

The months-long process culminated in April, thanks to the collaborative efforts and resources of the Lackawanna County Area Agency on Aging and the strong, neighborhood-enhancing nonprofit known as NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania.

NeighborWorks operates an Aging in Place program for homeowners age 60 and above, providing eligible applicants with services and home modifications to assist them in continuing to live safely and with dignity in their homes and communities.

Over the course of a few days, Ann’s old pink bathtub was removed and replaced by a walk-in shower. Pulling back a shower curtain to allow visitors to see the newly completed project, she asked, “Isn’t that beautiful?”

In addition to the bathroom mini-remodel, a worker installed a new dimmable light fixture and light switches so that Ann can more safely negotiate her way to bed at night without the aid of a flashlight or the need for a risky reach from atop the staircase to grasp an overhead pull chain.

Admittedly, Ann’s home, which she believes was built in 1917, hasn’t undergone many major renovations lately. The exterior appears to be in fine shape, courtesy of light gray siding installed when Ann and a sister, now deceased, shared the property. The dwelling fronts the street, separated by only a steep grassy bank and a series of concrete stairs with wrought-iron rails. “It’s not that great. It’s not that beautiful,” Ann said. “But it’s my house.”

One of 10 siblings raised in the place, Ann attended Archbald High School through the 11th grade (quitting, she said, because she got perturbed at teachers who “were rotten to me”) and then began a nearly 50-year career in the garment industry. She first worked in a factory in Archbald, to which she walked each workday, and later switched to a Carbondale plant, hemming children’s clothes. “I had a nice job,” she said.

She toured the nation a few times, sightseeing in Hawaii and trying her luck in Las Vegas. She formerly enjoyed monthly bus trips to Atlantic City and even once toyed with the notion of touring Italy. (She cancelled the European journey because of a dislike for air travel.)

Today Ann still drives a vehicle, making short trips in town, although the pandemic suspended her usual outings to meet up with friends at McDonald’s. Her network of pals includes former co-workers, acquaintances made over the years at the local senior center and fellow attendees of Sunday Mass.

With the assistance of a sister, niece and other close-at-hand relatives and friends, plus caregivers who do twice-weekly light housekeeping, Ann keeps her house – much like her physical condition – in remarkably good order. “I just had my eyes examined,” she said recently. “He told me I don’t need glasses; my eyes are perfect.”

Without consulting a calendar, Ann knows the dates of her upcoming appointments with providers who monitor her general health, kidney function and heart.

For any emerging health concerns, Ann keeps handy the cellphone number of Kari Machelli, RN, The Wright Center’s Associate Vice President of Integrated Primary Health Services. The two have known each other for nearly two decades. Together, they keep close tabs on Ann’s blood pressure.

The Wright Center’s Geriatrics Service Line is based on the belief that personalized, regular care – rather than crisis management – compassionately improves the quality of life for older patients. Efforts are made to reduce the potential negative impacts of social isolation, such as cognitive decline or depression.

During a recent visit to Ann’s house, Kari suggested that, as an alternative to TV watching, Ann might want to try an iPad available on loan through The Wright Center to play games, color and do puzzles. Likewise, she asked if Ann would like to be visited from time to time by Sister Maureen Marion, The Wright Center’s Life Enhancement Spiritual Aide.

Ann was receptive to both ideas. At the end of their visit, the duo exchanged “I love you’s.” As Kari exited the house, she called over her shoulder, saying, “Ann, I’ll call you later about scheduling Sister Maureen’s visits, and keep letting me know what your blood pressure is.”

Once outside, Kari began descending the steps to the street and said: “Oh, my god, I love Ann. I want to take her home.”

That’s only wishful thinking, of course, because Ann wouldn’t go. She’s perfectly happy to remain right where she is.

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