Elizabeth Taylor is working on her master’s degree in social work through the online program at Arizona State University. While the online program will take her longer to complete than the traditional class room course, she can complete her studies without travelling to Phoenix.
Her degree program requires 1,000 hours of internship, so Elizabeth was looking for potentials when she came to interview VVCC Call Center Specialist Jan Thompson for a research project. Elizabeth was really impressed by Jan and asked about a possible internship. VVCC was happy to develop an internship to fit her educational needs.
Starting in the Call Center, which matches volunteers to fulfill neighbor requests, Elizabeth is learning to coordinate services for neighbors. She is impressed with how “individuals work tirelessly to attend to neighbors.” Executive Director Kent Ellsworth consistently reaffirms that service is most important. She is also scheduling time to learn about in-home assessment from VVCC Care Coordinator Laura Bambusch.
Elizabeth has been working in counselling for 15 years, and has experience with other human services. She contrasted VVCC with another service whose personnel seemed worn down and lacking enthusiasm. Here she finds “absolute dedication to neighbors.”
Asked if her experience contradicts anything in her coursework, Elizabeth indicated that the experience really affirms the principles and theories at ASU. There is “no substitution for experience” so she feels that the internship compliments and completes her education.
Once she completes her degree, Elizabeth would like to do clinical work with women with trauma history. She has recently become aware of the problems of transgender people and how little resources exist, so this is becoming another area of interest.
Intern Elizabeth helps take requests from neighbors and schedules volunteers.
Three hours. That’s all the time Laura Bambusch had to avert potential tragedy. “It was one of the toughest days,” said Bambusch, care coordinator for Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition (VVCC). “It’s really on my mind.”
Recently, a local resident with severe Alzheimer’s had her water shut off, an all-too-common occurrence when dementia patients forget to – or even recall how to – pay their bills. With unseasonably warm spring temperatures expected in the following days, with no apparent straightforward solution to the problem, and with no one around to help Marie (not her real name), something had to be done and fast. As with any potential emergency involving the area’s high-needs senior population living independently, VVCC stepped in and responded swiftly, led by Bambusch.
“When I started working on this, it was 2 p.m. Friday and I’d been told I had until 5 p.m. to get to the water company and make arrangements to pay the bill,” she said. “But I was out on a hilltop. It’s hard to even get to her house. It involves going over a very rural road. I was up there and had to get back to where I could print out an email with the documents I needed her to sign. I had to get her water and [foodstuffs] to take back up with me. All this time, I’m racing the clock.” Turns out, Marie had also lost her wallet, including her driver’s license, and her dog had run away.
In addition, the house was disorderly, more evidence of Marie’s need for ongoing assistance from VVCC, not just on this day.
“Just as I was about to leave around 3:30, I got a call from the water company manager who said he’d turn her water on that afternoon if I came in Monday morning with arrangements to pay,” recounted Bambusch. “That was both one of the worst days and one of the best days because I got the water back on.”
Very high-stress situations like this are all too common among the high-needs senior population living at home. Ensuring VVCC clients or “neighbors” are never left isolated is a fundamental part of the organization’s mission. VVCC Executive Director Kent Ellsworth said many seniors suffer quietly and hidden from view. “Their family members help as much as they can,” he adds, “but many live out of state. They do know we’re here and that’s how we found Marie.”
In addition to VVCC’s transportation services and proactive programs like loaning Guardian Angel emergency alert units, VVCC is also a first point of contact for vulnerable neighbors, either finding solutions in concert with other local resource providers or directly addressing just about any kind of urgent situation. Previously, Marie had been a schoolteacher and financial advisor. “These are very intelligent people who were very successful in their day,” Bambusch said. “But now their needs are high and they are struggling to cope.”
Helping those most vulnerable is Bambusch’s calling in life.
“I was brought in specifically to work with the high-needs clients, the ones with the most issues so I feel like a crusader, quite often, where I am working with seniors who have no family, no one nearby, who are isolated, who are suffering from dementia.
Difficult cases like Marie’s require passion and perseverance, but they also take a toll. “I had started thinking “if I don’t get this done, how can I enjoy my weekend, knowing she’s up there with nothing?” said Bambusch.
But then, resolution brought relief. “When they said they’d turn that water on, I wept tears of joy!”
VVCC Care Coordinator Laura Bambusch on her way to help an older adult client.
Linda M. Clark
Development & Communications Manager
299 Van Deren, Suite 2
Sedona, AZ 86336