Saturday, November 15, 2008

Job Update:

I'm not here to say that I scored my dream job that pays a ton of money and has great benefits. But, I do have a few things to be grateful for. 

First, my time with LifeworksNW will be increased from 3 to 4 days a week. Currently, I manage a dementia day program that runs 5 days a week. They can only pay me to be there 3 days a week, which has been challenging because it is difficult to be a good and useful supervisor when  I am not there. So, after almost two years of requesting additional time with my program (because I hate not being as effective as I can while I'm there), they never did allow me to work more hours. 

Taking on a new task has been difficult because it feels, in part, like I'm enabling the system by taking on additional hours for something else and passively accepting my coordinator position as it is. But, I don't have much choice since it seems like everyone in Portland is trying to find work! I will also be eligible for health insurance, but will still have to pay about 100 bucks a month. At least I will be covered if I snowboard off a cliff.

I will be spending my extra day per week organizing and working on starting a substance abuse program specifically designed for older adults. This is an extremely challenging task. Older adults are more likely to live alone where they can stay in their homes, usually self medicating with alcohol or prescription medications. There are programs out there, but these services have been stunted by the stigma that surrounds elderly people and substance abuse in our society. You will often here, "well why don't you let them do what they want to?" or "They are already 80, so what is the use?". It is even common in movies to see the grandma that drinks at 11:30am and always has a glass of wine or a martini glass. What we don't see are the broken family relationships. So many older adults find meaning near the end of their lives through their family relationships, so the absence of that connection can absolutely influence quality of life.

My personal experience with older adult substance abuse occurred while I was living in Corvallis, Oregon about 2 years ago. As a part-time social worker(I was also in grad school), I was the only person interested in helping one of the residents in the community I was working in. I worked closely with this lady to help her acknowledge her situation and the endless cycle that her daily drinking and prescription med use would have on her dwindling family relationships. Her only son refused to communicate with her because of the countless times she had lied to him over the years. She first started using in the 60's when the Dr. prescribed her Valium for her 'busy thoughts'. She has been hooked ever since. Most of us have one primary physician. This lady had countless PCP's(primary care physicians) because she would make rounds(not telling the MD's) to ensure that she would always have enough pain killers to use regularly. When I started working with her, she had a pain patch on 24/7. Her health issues were very minimal and she always had that 'glazed' look in her eyes. I decided to approach the topic with her. It took several months and talking about someone else I knew who had been through the same process. Once she admitted her dependence, we worked with the Dr. to taper several of her meds. We also found a machine that kept her meds locked up. We hired a caregiver to fill her meds weekly. I went with her to her appt.'s since her son still refused to talk to her. She was doing great and her son was starting to warm up a bit.....but she still needed A LOT of support.... from me.... since I was the only person she would talk to. I tried repeatedly to find a formal program that would give her support with this issue, but never found anything in the area. She was clean for about 7 weeks and seemed very happy. Then one day she did not come down for lunch and she wouldn't answer her door. The neighbors heard crying sounds. I keyed into her apartment and found her foaming at the mouth and convulsing on the floor. She had lied to me and had a stash of meds in her possession, which she used to try and OD with. It wore on me. I wanted her to be successful, but with only my support the future looked grim. I left that Corvallis and moved to Portland shortly after that to pursue my own personal endeavors and hoped that she would find her way. I think about her often.

I came to Lifeworks and immediately asked them what addiction services they offered specifically for older adults. There was nothing, however my boss said it was 'in the works'. Now they finally got some seed money and it is in my hands to create an outpatient program that will hopefully become sustainable. 

When I think about this, I immediately become overwhelmed. How will I get people out of their homes? What will it take to keep people from trying to OD when it gets too hard? How will I get families involved? Yikes! so much to think about and plan for. I have my work cut out for me I guess. 

First on the To-Do list:
  • research addictions programs, and any other similar programs in the country.
  • develop the program as it will be offered through lifeworks
  • create a marketing scheme; brochure, mailings, outreach meetings.
  • hopefully get at least 25 people to participate(this will be the hard part I think! It takes a lot for someone to leave the house when they leave maybe once every 2 weeks.)
  • Test the before and after results and hopefully get some data for a potential publication
  • find ways to keep this program available for people in the future
Holy COW! All in the next year! 

Oh yeah and I'm also completing 160 hours of data collection in the next 3 months with a very well known dementia researcher in the Portland area. I'm doing this for minimal pay and hoping the relationships I make will be helpful in the future. 

So, I'm pretty busy over the next 3 or 4 months. Still the biggest priority in my brain is making sure I still have at least one weekday per week to make it to Mt. Hood. I'll work weekends if I have to. A girl has to have priorities!

Happy to be busy again and hoping these things will blossom to bigger and brighter opportunities in the future!

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