St. Louis Park works to help seniors remain in their homes

By Sue Webber

Contributing writer

St. Louis Park is making efforts on several fronts to meet the housing and safety needs of senior citizens.

One is a pilot program the city’s Fire Department began three years ago with Park Nicollet and Methodist Hospital to look at reducing readmissions to the hospital and the problems seniors encounter when they are discharged from the hospital.

“The Fire Department sometimes is called when residents need to go back to the hospital, and sometimes they need to go back because they didn’t understand the paperwork they got when they were discharged the first time, or they neglected to pick up their prescriptions,” Fire Chief Steve Koering said.

The idea of the pilot program is to meet the patients at their homes, and answer their questions, Koering said.

St. Louis Park firefighters visit with senior citizens in their homes following the seniors’ discharge from the hospital. (Submitted photo)
St. Louis Park firefighters visit with senior citizens in their homes following the seniors’ discharge from the hospital. (Submitted photo)

Since St. Louis Park started the pilot program, Minneapolis, Minnetonka, Eden Prairie and Hopkins also have joined the effort, according to Koering.

“When we’re notified of a hospital patient being discharged in our city, the patient signs a release at the hospital agreeing to release their discharge instructions,” Koering said. “Then we set up an appointment with the patient. We go to their home, go through the discharge instructions with them, make sure they have food on hand, and pick up their prescriptions, if necessary.”

The information from the study is collected from the cities and is being tracked, Koering said.

Noting that the average patient they see is a 66-year-old female, he said, “We’ve seen more than 1,000 patients across the five cities,” he said. “We know it has reduced readmissions to the hospital.”

He also noted that St. Louis Park has a lot of “young seniors.” He estimates that 10 percent of the city’s population is 65 and older, and 10 percent of those live alone at home. “State data shows that our senior population is expected to double by 2030,” he said.

“St. Louis Park as a community is very, very ‘senior centric,’” Koering said. “We are continuing to build more vertical residential buildings, memory care and assisted living units. We have six licensed nursing homes. It’s a big part of our existence.

“We have a lot of programs in place to make sure seniors are safe in their homes. We attend their senior service group meetings.”

Koering said city officials are exploring a variety of options for serving seniors, other than their calling 911.

The Seniors Safe at Home program also was initiated by Park Nicollet, Koering said. Another program, launched with the VFW, is the Senior Lockbox program. Seniors who aren’t able to get to their front door in case of emergency may get a lockbox for a small fee and put it on their door. The Fire Department has a master key to the lockboxes, Koering said.

“If a senior citizen has fallen or is in trouble, the drama and pain of kicking the door in doesn’t have to happen,” he said. “It’s much easier if they have a lockbox.”

St. Louis Park also has found that home health care nurses often counsel seniors about trip hazards in their homes, or ways to prevent falling. “What’s unique about firefighters doing that counseling is that health care nurses say it’s hard to get seniors to listen to them,” Koering said. “But they listen to firefighters,” Koering said. “Firefighters are trusted people seniors allow to enter and inspect their homes. When we give them recommendations, they tend to follow them. It’s a great opportunity to play a big role in community risk reduction.”

Helping to maintain properties

As part of its effort to help residents maintain their properties, the city of St. Louis Park offers two financial aid programs.

“Neither is specifically for seniors,” said Marney Olson, St. Louis Park’s housing programs coordinator and assistant housing supervisor. “They are for low-income people. But often seniors who are on fixed incomes qualify.”

One program, administered by Hennepin County according to income limits, offers deferred loans for improvements and updates that will enhance the safety and maintenance of a residential property.

“The loan is deferred until the sale of the home, and the loan is forgiven after 15 years,” Olson said.

Hennepin County keeps a waiting list of people who have applied for the loans. The loan limit is $30,000, Olson said.

The second program is an emergency repair program that grants applicants up to $4,000 to do projects and does not require that the money be repaid.

“People don’t have time to save for emergencies, and we want people to be safe in their homes,” Olson said.

Emergencies typically requiring such aid include furnaces, roofing, plumbing, electrical work, or anything else that might affect code violations or the health and safety of the residents.

“It’s a fantastic program, administered by CAPSH, or Community Action Partnership of Suburban Hennepin,” Olson said. CAPSH is a private, non-profit agency based in St. Louis Park that serves low- and moderate-income residents.

“I would definitely encourage seniors who have limited household incomes to contact CAPSH for emergency repairs,” Olson said. “It’s really a great resource. CAPSH is a great partner for us. Their help has immediate impact for the homeowner.”

Builders, remodelers are hearing from St. Louis Park seniors, too

Ron Sonnek, president of Sicora, Inc., builders in St. Louis Park said the most frequent request he gets is from people wanting to make their homes more adaptable for seniors. “A lot of people in their 50s and 60s are thinking ahead to 15 years down the road,” Sonnek said.

“We get lots of inquiries about soaking tubs or side-loading tubs, which are fairly expensive,” Sonnek said. “A lot of people want to get their laundry room out of the basement to a first-floor level, so they don’t need to deal with the stairs.”

Mother-in-law suites are being talked about “more and more,” Sonnek said. “The challenge is how to create a satisfactory space for people to live under one roof, when they’ve been used to having their own space, and how to create a space that is respectful of all the residents,” he said.

Butch Sprenger of Destiny Homes in Minnetonka, said most of his clientele are ages 50 and above, and come from a variety of area communities.

“What they’re looking for is all over the board,” he said. “They want bathrooms that are more convenient, better access to the laundry room and doorways that are big enough to wheel through. They want easier, nicer living.”

Some clients are interested in putting an addition on their home, or adding a mother-in-law apartment, he said. Sometimes a younger couple will move upstairs and leave the main level for their aging parents, Sprenger said.

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