Community Living Alliance: Bringing Health, Independence, and Dignity Home

CLA Staff
Photo by Community Living Alliance

Getting dressed, making dinner, and dusting the furniture is quite easy for someone who is young and able bodied. But if one is getting up in years or has a physical disability, the simple tasks of daily living may present quite a challenge. That’s when Community Living Alliance (CLA) can help. This community-based, nonprofit agency supports people with physical disabilities or long-term illnesses who wish to live with dignity and independence in the community. CLA is a Wisconsin Medicaid Certified Personal Care Agency.

Serving 1,200 clients in Dane County, CLA offers people the ability to stay in their homes and live a life that any person dreams of. One of the top 100 employers in Dane County, CLA employs nearly 900 personal care workers who are in the field providing a variety of services through four main CLA programs.

Clients in the Medical Assistance Personal Care program receive hands-on services in their home, such as bathing, showering, or transferring with a lift. The client’s number of daily care hours is authorized by Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services. Some personal care workers may be family members who live with their clients. All are supervised by a CLA registered nurse.

The CLA Care Solutions™ program serves people who are private-pay clients. These clients can use private funds, long-term-care insurance, or Veterans Administration benefits to pay for these services, including personal care, grocery shopping, medical appointment transport, and even helping to learn how to use a computer. Services can also be provided outside the client’s home—wherever they are needed. People with disabilities and seniors who do not qualify for Medicaid find the extra help makes it possible for them to stay in their own homes, which is less costly than moving to a nursing home or assisted-living facility.

Photo provided by Community Living Alliance

A third program is Contracted Home Care and Personal Care. CLA contracts with Dane County’s Department of Human Services to provide services to elderly individuals. A plan of care is provided by the referring party for personal care as well as for home chores directly needed by the client. The clients are referred through senior centers and focal points throughout the county. CLA does an assessment in the client’s home to assure a full understanding of the client’s needs, then trains and supervises the personal care workers at no cost to the client.

The final CLA programs are the Community Integration Program (CIP)/Community Options Program (COP). People with Medicaid and physical disabilities or long-term illnesses are eligible. These programs are also contracted by Dane County Human Services. Funding through the CIP and COP programs goes to help eligible people stay in the community. CLA also provides a variety of support services to people with developmental disabilities through contracts with Dane County Human Services. Finally, CLA provides personal care and supportive home care services to members of Managed Care Organizations (MCOs) in Dane County.

Studies consistently show that serving people in their own homes is more cost-effective than care provided in a nursing home or institutional setting, according to Wisconsin Personal Services Association.

CLA’s intake is a process of getting to know the client, listening, and providing the support the client needs. “Our service is long-term, changing as a person’s needs change,” according to Theresa Fishler, director of CLA Program Operations. She adds, “Some clients have been with us from our start in 1998, and their support looks different now. We have changed as they have changed.”

As the population ages (the Department of Health Services estimates 24 percent of Wisconsin residents will be over 65 by 2040) and more people wish to remain in their own homes, the demand for personal home care services will increase. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects employment for personal care aides will grow by nearly 50 percent in the next decade—much faster than the average for all occupations. CLA faces the challenge of a workforce shortage.

Photo provided by Community Living Alliance

“It’s important that we find caring, competent people to work with vulnerable clients,” Theresa says. Many of CLA’s current employees are part-time workers, among them are University of Wisconsin–Madison and Madison College students and retired nurses. For some it’s a second job. Oftentimes personal care workers get into this line of work because of family. “They’ve taken care of grandparents or perhaps a sibling with a physical disability,” Theresa states.

Personal care workers are paid upwards to $11.66 per hour. About half of CLA’s employees are family caregivers. Some also work with clients in addition to their own families. All CLA employees, even family members of clients, go through the same employment, training, and evaluation process to assure clients are receiving the personal care they expect and deserve.

As clients’ needs change, so does the care they require. Assessments are done at least annually, if not more often, depending on a client’s health situation, for example, after a fall. The CLA registered nurse supervisor has about 50 to 60 personal care workers on his or her team and visits homes every 50 to 60 days.

CLA set up a caregiver assistance fund and hosted its first “Caring for the Caregiver” fundraiser last April. The event, with music from the band VO5 and a silent auction, raised more than $6,000. Personal caregivers can receive small grants from the fund, such as financial assistance to attend an event with the client’s family or for unexpected expenses that would impact the caregiver’s ability to provide care. The CLA staff and a board representative approve the requests according to its established guidelines. CLA plans to hold the caregiver event again in 2017.

November is National Family Caregivers Appreciation month, so the community can appreciate the work they do. What can be done to show appreciation? Send flowers to brighten up a caregiver’s day, help decorate their home for the holidays, or give the caregiver a DVD of a funny movie for comic relief. But, most importantly, thank those personal care workers who tirelessly provide support to individuals with disabilities or long-term illnesses in Dane County.

Jeanne Engle is a freelance writer.