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Care and Support When People Really Need It

Published 03/04/2013 12:00 AM
Updated 03/05/2013 03:29 PM

By Marji McClure
North Haven Courier

If caregiving hasn't yet been a part of your life, it likely will eventually. Those who already have been involved in the caregiving of an ill family member or friend know how challenging that role is.

That's one reason why organizations, such as VNA Community Healthcare, exist. They provide a support system for those caregivers who need a resource to help them deal with the challenges and find solutions to the problems they face.

VNA Community Healthcare also helps seniors find solutions to their challenges. For North Haven residents, all it takes is a phone call or a visit to the local office at 2 Broadway. There, they will find Jo Ann Begley, who brings both her personal and professional experience to her job with VNA Community Healthcare.

On a personal level, Jo Ann knows first-hand what it's like to be a caregiver.

"I was a family caregiver for years," says Jo Ann. "My mother-in-law had dementia and lived with us for nine years. She was 88 when she moved in."

At the same time, Jo Ann kept a close eye on her own mother, who lives four miles away. She was also working full time and running a household that included two children, aged 8 and 10, when her mother-in-law first moved in.

"I can relate," says Jo Ann, who was working for the VNA at the time. "But it's always a little different when it's your own family member. I also received a tremendous amount of support and understanding from co-workers."

Jo Ann says the main focus of the support groups the VNA has for caregivers is to help those caregivers realize they are not alone and that it's okay to accept help from others and to do things for themselves. Those were all things Jo Ann had to remind herself of when she was a caregiver.

"We all have the 'lead goose.' There's always someone who takes the lead," says Jo Ann. "That lead goose doesn't ask for help. I was in that mode of doing everything myself. Then I thought, 'You have to practice what you preach.' When I followed my own advice, things were easier."

That's what Jo Ann hopes that her work providing caregiver support and serving as a community liaison for the VNA will do for area residents: make things easier.

Jo Ann runs groups for caregivers to help them get the support they need. A support group meets in North Haven on the first Monday of the month.

"This is a free program. As long as a family member or a patient lives in our area, they could benefit from the program," says Jo Ann.

Jo Ann explains that the VNA offers a wide range of services for the North Haven, including skilled nursing services, homemaker companion services, and wide range of programs for senior, such as how to exercise to prevent falls. There are also blood pressure clinics and nurses who can answer questions and provide coaching sessions to help people stay on track with their health goals.

Jo Ann says it is rewarding "to see the camaraderie in the support groups and help people be able to problem solve. The feedback we get is validating that our work is necessary."

Jo Ann's work with the VNA began nearly nine years ago. She was working at the Caring Ways Adult Day Center in Old Saybrook, doing community outreach and serving as a volunteer coordinator of the support network.

Before working for the VNA, Jo Ann worked full time offering relaxation therapies, providing foot reflexology and Reiki to caregivers. When working with the relaxation therapies, she began an internship at Connecticut Hospice.

"That was the beginning of me working with families, patients, and staff," Jo Ann says. "It was really a good lead-in to the caregiver network."

Jo Ann now works mostly of the VNA's North Haven office, but she also works in Guilford. As part of her community outreach, Jo Ann visits physicians' offices, senior centers, and senior housing. Jo Ann, who has a degree in marketing and advertising, is happy that her life's journey brought her to the VNA.

"It's about the journey and about listening when it's time for the next step," she says. "I couldn't ask to work for a more supportive agency."

Jo Ann credited the support of many grants that help keep the VNA running. The non-profit also relies on fundraisers, including its spring event on Tuesday, May 7 at the New Haven Country Club in Hamden.

For more information about services the VNA offers, call the VNA Helpline at 866-474-5230.

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