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Beuna May Bugel: There's no place like your home

The year was 2009. Mel and Mary had moved to Little Marais in 1996. Mel and Mary were retired teachers from the Twin Cities. They quickly immersed themselves within the Little Marais Community Club. They joined the North Shore Voices Choir. Mel was known for leading an ecumenical Bible study that drew in participants from a variety of churches within the bay area.

Mel had been previously diagnosed with Parkinson's and had now received a diagnosis of terminal bone cancer. Mel and Mary moved to the North Shore so they may reside in their dream home. Mel's diagnosis worried Mary, as lacking a nursing background, she worried how long he would be able to stay at home. Mary, despite being highly educated, couldn't make easy sense of the medication sequence.

Mary scrambled to find nursing care. Aides would come and bathe Mel twice a week. A registered nurse would come out for a weekly check-in. One time during the middle of the night, when an intravenous tube delivering comfort meds snapped, Mary was able to call a nurse to receive instructions how to remedy the situation. Mel was given six months to live; he ended up living two years. Mel was able to die in his own home, uplifted by those in the community around him.

If one of Mel’s neighbors received a similar diagnosis today, they would not be able to stay in their own homes. St. Luke’s bought out Superior Home Health services several years back. St. Luke’s has since adopted a policy that they will not provide home care services beyond a thirty mile radius from Lakeview Hospital in Two Harbors due to fiscal inefficiencies. The communities affected by this policy include Finland, Little Marais, and Isabella, even living as close to Silver Bay as Palisade Head would deem a resident ineligible for these services. This policy affects our parents, grandparents, neighbors, and friends thereby all of us.

To be fair to St. Luke’s from my conversations with their leadership, they do face challenges in providing home care services. Federal mandates stipulate that providers who offer any home health services must offer Skilled Nursing, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, Speech Therapy, Home Health Aide and a Medical Social Worker to every patient. Staffing all these positions in a rural area with less than full-time demand is a challenge. One problem with these mandates is even potential solutions like telemonitoring are governed by them.

So what is the solution for home health care shortages within Lake County? One possible solution would be an expansion of services such as Community Paramedics or Community Health Workers who would be able to assist with in-home health needs such as blood pressure checks and wound care. While both these services would be helpful, neither complete solves the issue.

My firm conviction on this matter from not only my experience as a pastor but also a grandson is that people don’t realize how psychologically jarring it is for seniors to be forced to move from their homes.

At North Shore Area Partners, we realize that “There is No Place Like Your Home.” Seeking to address the lack of home care in Northern Lake County is one of our biggest priorities as an organization. We have discussed potentially becoming an independent provider of services such as PCA care and contracting with skilled nursing.

If you have stories to share about the home health care shortage in Lake County, we would welcome your feedback. The more we understand the need, the more effectively we can work to address it. Please contact our Executive Director Lise Abazs at 226-3635 or via email at director@nsapartners.org.

Pastor Stew Carlson is the grandson of Beuna May Carlson of Lindstrom, Minn. He is also the board chairman for North Shore Area Partners and pastor of Sychar Lutheran Church in Silver Bay. He can be reached at sycharlutheranpastor@gmail.com.