New program aims to provide seniors with home-based alternative to nursing facility care

“Here in Illinois, we recognize that our elders thrive when they remain in our communities as they age,” Gov. J.B. Pritzker said. “The PACE program is an innovative model that delivers a much-needed alternative to traditional nursing facility care.”

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A woman selects plants at a famers market held at the Esperanza Center in Brighton Park.

A woman selects plants at a famers market held at the Esperanza Center in Brighton Park.

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In an effort to help Illinois seniors stay in their homes for longer, officials announced Monday the state will be participating in a new federal program that could provide them with an alternative to nursing facility care.

In a statement, Gov. J.B. Pritzker said the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) would expand seniors’ options for community-based services.

“Here in Illinois, we recognize that our elders thrive when they remain in our communities as they age,” Pritzker said. “The PACE program is an innovative model that delivers a much-needed alternative to traditional nursing facility care.”

The program will be available to qualifying seniors eligible for Medicare and Medicaid, who are 55 and older, live within a PACE service area and meet the state’s standard of qualifying for nursing home care, while also being able to live safely at home.

State officials identified five health care organizations in Chicago as PACE partners.

Esperanza Health Centers and Annie’s Place PACE will provide services for residents living on the South Side, and Kinship PACE of Illinois, Lawndale Christian Health Center and PACE of Southwest Chicago will serve residents on the West Side.

All still need to pass a “stringent” federal application process, which the state’s Department of Healthcare and Family Services said they would be supporting the organizations through.

For that reason, “It will yet be a while before we actually start enrolling participants and delivering service,” Ricardo Cifuentes, a spokesman for Esperanza Health Centers, said Tuesday. “But still, the announcement is a major win and will help create more options for seniors on the South and West sides of Chicago.”

State officials said they anticipate the program will start providing services in 2024.

More than 30 states already participate in PACE, according to Cifuentes.

Esperanza Health Centers Brighton Park on Tuesday at 4700 S. California Ave. in Brighton Park.

Esperanza Health Centers Brighton Park on Tuesday at 4700 S. California Ave. in Brighton Park.

Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times

Services available through the program include adult day care, occupational therapy programs, dental care, meals and access to prescription drugs, according to Cifuentes.

“It’s also a big benefit for caretaker families who must often sacrifice work hours and other responsibilities to tend to the needs of frail and elderly parents,” Cifuentes said.

If a senior enrolled in the program eventually needs nursing home care, “PACE will fund that and continue to coordinate the patient’s care,” the family services department said.

Heidi Ortolaza-Alvear, vice president of strategy and business development for Esperanza, said the PACE model has shown it can prevent or delay nursing home placement and reduce emergency room visits “because you’re catching things early.”

“The end goal really is to help people age in place,” Ortolaza-Alvear said.

The program also helps seniors find opportunities to socialize, including through arts and crafts programing, as isolation can contribute to declines in health.

“That’s another element of this model and why there’s this whole socialization component to it is really to get people to have time to spend engaged with folks in their community,” Ortolaza-Alvear said.

Michael Loria is a staff reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times via Report for America, a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster the paper’s coverage of communities on the South and West sides.

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