Caregiver respite in Reading offered through town trust fund

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Certified home health aides in Reading can get a break for up to three hours a month under a new program that allows them to attend to other appointments, run errands, or enjoy free time while knowing that the person in their care is in good hands.
The new caregiver respite program is part of the Reading Response Program administered by the town’s Elder and Human Services Division and funded through the town’s Hospital Trust Fund, which is separate from the municipal budget.
The program helps those whose income makes them eligible for services, although those with incomes exceeding program guidelines can use the services with a copayment.
A number of private nonprofits that contract with the state Office of Elder Affairs and volunteer organizations offer respite care services in Massachusetts. And some local councils on aging, such as in Bellingham and Medfield, offer fee-based respite programs that bring people needing care to their respective senior centers.
Reading’s program, however, sends a home health aide to cover for the caregiver at the person’s home.
“As far as I know this is a unique program,” said Jane Burns, Reading’s elder and human services administrator. “I think we’re unique where we have this trust fund that we can access to provide these services.”
The Hospital Trust Fund was established in 1925, when resident Gilman Parker left $35,000 to the town for a fund that was intended to build a Reading Hospital, according to Beth Klepeis, a former Reading town treasurer who now sits on the trust fund’s Board of Commissioners.
Parker’s will stipulated that interest on funds could be used to pay medical bills of needy people until the hospital was built. The fund’s three-member Board of Commissioners is appointed by the Board of Selectmen, with the chair of the selectmen and town treasurer serving as ex-officio members.
In 1988, as it became clear the hospital would not be built, the commissioners sought and received a Probate Court ruling allowing the board to use the funds to defray medical-related expenses for needy citizens, resulting in the Reading Response Program.
Klepeis said the idea for a caregiver respite program arose from the memory café now offered by the town’s Elder and Human Service Division for people with dementia and their caregivers.
The Trust Fund contracts with Hallmark Health for the services offered through the Response Program, including the caregiver respite program. The fund pays Hallmark $450 a month to oversee all the programs and $27 an hour for home health aides, whether as medical procedure escorts or for caregiver respite.
The town’s Elder and Human Services Division takes all the applications for the program, determines a person’s eligibility, and then works directly with Hallmark Health in coordinating the services, Klepeis said.