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Community LIFE: Questions and Answers
By Vanessa Orr

Kalpana Char

Kalpana Char, M.D., is a board-certified internal medicine specialist who is the Medical Director of Community LIFE. She has extensive experience in geriatric medical care and has a passion for caring for older adults, guiding them and their families through the many transitions of aging. Dr. Char is a graduate of the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill and completed her residency in Internal Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Recently, the Western Pennsylvania Guide to Good Health spoke with Dr. Char about the numerous benefits of the Community LIFE program, and the unique environment of care provided there.

Q: What is Community LIFE?
A: Community LIFE is a community-based program that offers a comprehensive range of services to older adults in a patient-centered environment. Community LIFE provides everything you need in one spot, under one roof. It is an alternative to nursing home care for persons who have medical challenges or are frail, but prefer to remain in their own homes, in their community, with as much independence as possible. For many people, this can be accomplished when supportive services are offered. Our program is available at our day health centers, which is not adult day care but a medical care provider, in four locations.

Q: What services does Community LIFE offer?
A: Our high-quality services include top-notch, person-centered medical care, consisting of both primary care and specialty care; this includes vision care, dental care and podiatry. We provide physical therapy, occupational therapy, and pulmonary rehab, plus care coordination. We have an on-site pharmacy at our health centers, and we provide your daily medications, with no co-pays. We have on-site x-ray and lab. We provide transportation, not only to and from the day center, but also to medical appointments for diagnostic tests or services that are located elsewhere. These medical services are provided at our health centers by our physicians and team of registered nurses, therapists, dieticians, assistants and others. In addition to medical services, Community LIFE offers social activities and recreational and entertainment opportunities.

Q: What makes the program unique?
A: Our program is especially helpful for those who are medically complicated and have multiple diagnoses. Our approach to their care is practical and individualized, and that simplifies things for the older adult and the family. When you join our program, you don’t have to worry about the practicalities of getting to appointments, ordering and picking up prescriptions, or arranging for daily help with dressing and grooming. Our services are all-encompassing.
Of equal importance, we keep ‘medical necessity’ at the core of our services. We define that broadly: it includes physical well-being, and also psychological and functional well-being. Our focus is on getting you the care you really NEED – care that is essential to your quality of life, functioning and independence. It is a more pointed and humane kind of care, in contrast to aggressive, high tech care that may not be in the person’s best interests.  We help people through the transitions of aging, and our program includes transportation, wellness services and other forms of infrastructure which are usually lacking in traditional care. Good geriatric care is pre-palliative; it is focused on quality of life, but without sacrificing good medical management.

Q: What is the philosophy of Community LIFE?
A: We are always patient-focused and act as advocates. We provide an approach where our participants are greatly respected and cherished, and treated with reverent care. That is the philosophy of the PACE (Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly) program, the prototype for our program. LIFE stands for Living Independence for the Elderly, and we believe that by providing a nexus of medical, social and daily living support services, we can help older adults remain in their homes with as much autonomy as possible. Our staff has a strong commitment to this mission, and we help our participants to be their authentic, true selves. In the unfamiliar environment of a nursing home or hospital, older people can develop delirium and deteriorate; they are at risk for infections, falls and other safety issues. When they remain in the comfort and familiarity of home, they are likely to be healthier and to live longer.

Q: What is a typical day like at Community LIFE?
A: You have the option of coming to the day health center or remaining at home with in-home services. At the day center, you get good healthy meals, see your doctor or therapist if needed, take a class, watch a movie with friends, exercise or take a nap. It’s a social environment, and that’s healthy. Persons who have chronic pain often find that their pain is decreased when they come to the center; diversion is a form of pain management, whereas isolation and boredom can make pain worse. We have a great staff to participant ratio, and we get to know people well.

Community LIFE is an all-inclusive program dedicated to helping older adults stay healthy, independent and at home. The Program provides Day Health Centers, expert coordinated medical care, a variety of therapies, in-home services and transportation to appointments and the Day Health Center. To be eligible, one must be at least 55; clinically eligible; able to live safely at home; and residing in one of the Community LIFE service areas. Locations are in Tarentum, Homestead, the East End, Logan’s Ferry and McKeesport. To enroll or to learn more, call 1-866-419-1963 and intake specialist will answer your questions and assist you with the enrollment process.

To learn more about eligibility and enrolling in Community LIFE, visit www.commlife.org or call 1-866-419-1693.

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