Sandy Twp.– The face of elder care is a continually changing concept. From the tradition to keeping an elderly parent at home with family, to nursing homes, personal care homes, senior housing and, yes, returning to staying with the family. And that final choice has a new option now in Pennsylvania.
The Elder Cottage Housing Opportunity, or ECHO Cottage, made it’s state debut Tuesday in Sandy Township, Clearfield County. The first of it’s kind in the state, the ECHO Cottage is a small, semi-permanent home option for elderly family members whose only other option might be assisted living or a nursing home.
Designed so that the elder family member can live close to caregivers but still maintain independence, the cottages can easily be moved into a spot on the property and, when the time comes, can be cleaned and moved to another location.
The Sandy Township cottage was placed on the property of Don Robertson for his father-in-law, Gary Peterson. The project took the cooperation of many people and agencies, spearheaded by Clearfield County Area Agency on Aging’s Director of Business Development, Julie Fenton. And a ribbon cutting ceremony was held at the site of the cottage.
Others who got involved along the way include the state Department of Aging, Diana T. Meyers and Associated, Dave Ball and Lucy Serio of Accessible Home for You, John and Ryan Pover of Dream Homes, the state Housing and Finance Agency, Clearfield County Planning and Community Development and officials from Sandy Township.
According to CCAAA’s Chief Executive Officer Kathy Gillespie, Pennsylvania has 2.9 million residents age 60 and over and that number is expected to increase by 25 percent in 2020. She noted that caregivers are often referred to as the “sandwich” generation, caught between raising their own families and also caring for their parents, especially when complete independence is no longer possible.
Gillespie referred to the three plagues of the elderly: loneliness, helplessness and boredom. The ECHO cottages, she said, can help combat these problems. They place the resident near family, giving them the opportunity to interact with not only their children, but grand children as well. With family close by, help is only a short distance away, and family can keep close watch on the cottage resident. And with the regular interaction of the family, boredom is less of an issue. It allows them to age in place with dignity, she said.
“Together we are changing aging,” she said.
Pennsylvania’s Secretary of Aging, Teresa Osborne, also briefly spoke and said that it has been amazing to watch Clearfield County take the lead in this project. She recognized the shared vision of everyone involved still wouldn’t have happened without Robertson and Peterson’s help and cooperation. “Every step is sincerely and deeply appreciated,” she said, adding that cottages such as this one would allow people to age well with the services they need as well as dignity and respect, empowering a person to live with independence and safety.
Robertson echoed much of what Gillespie and Osborne said, and added that he sees even more possibilities with cottages such as these. He asked officials to consider the needs of those with Autism, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and other disabilities. He said it is an opportunity to change not only the culture of aging but the culture of caregiving.
Peterson, who is originally from Northern California, spoke about how he prayed for such an opportunity. A ranch owner and former rodeo rider, Peterson said it was difficult to sell his ranch and his horses and move to Pennsylvania, although he finds that there is much about the state that reminds him of California. He said he has made many friends here and said of the cottage, “It’s wonderful.”
Peterson was able to move into his cottage Monday.
Gillepie said the CCAAA and county officials are already working towards a second cottage. She said they are in the process of applying for a second round of grants to fund the project. Each cottage has a base cost of $56,000, she noted. Anyone interested in learning more about the ECHO cottages can contact CCAAA at 1-800-225-8571.