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Every senior citizen who is 65 or older and who has been an Alaska resident for at least one year is advised to submit an application to the Pioneers Home - even if they do not plan on moving there in the next ten or 20 years.
"Don't wait until a crisis hits, such as falling and breaking your hip," said Virginia Smiley, Alaska Longevity Programs Manager. "Sometimes there is a lengthy waiting list and it's good to be on the Inactive List just in case the need arises."
Once received in the Pioneers Home Central Office, 7th floor State Office Building, applications are date stamped and applicants' names are either put on the Inactive or Active waiting lists. Most seniors choose to start on the Inactive List. Once seniors begin to seriously consider moving into the Pioneers Home, they simply make a phone call and ask to be put on the Active List. Their name is then put in line according to their application date.
There are six Pioneers Homes in Alaska - in Juneau, Ketchikan, Sitka, Palmer, Anchorage and Fairbanks - and each home has its own personality and character. The Pioneers Homes are not nursing homes or skilled nursing facilities. Rather, all six homes are licensed assisted living homes - a homelike setting that provides room and board and assistance with activities of daily living. Assisted living presents a wonderful sense of community, and it is a healthy, safe alternative to the loneliness and boredom that often accompanies living alone.
Despite rumors to the contrary, the Pioneer Homes are less expensive than other assisted living homes in Alaska. In addition, Pioneers Homes offer a more comprehensive package of services than private assisted living homes. The monthly rates depend on the level of care needed by the individual senior. Some of the seniors who live at the Pioneers Home are fairly independent, while others need more supervision for their own safety. If the monthly Pioneers Home rate is greater than the senior can afford, a grant program is available to help.
The Juneau Pioneers Home, one of the smallest in the state, accommodates up to 47 residents. The home is made up of neighborhoods such as the Salmonberry Suite, which tend to reflect differing capabilities of the residents. Since incorporating the Eden Alternative Philosophy in the homes, the residents have lots of choices, including when and where to eat and whether or not to participate in the various activities available. The staff is friendly, like family, the gardens are lovely and even pets grace the halls.
Virginia Smiley explains, "Creating the home environment is what the Pioneers Homes are all about." Members of the general public and interested senior citizens are welcome to tour the Juneau home by calling Sandy Harris at 780-6422, ext. 247.
"We've opened our doors so that people understand the Pioneers Home belongs to them. Pioneers Homes are good places to be - for residents, staff, for families, for communities," said Smiley.
For decades, Alaska's Pioneers Homes have proven to be a real godsend for older Alaskans and their families. Seniors not yet on one of the waiting lists should pick up an application at the Pioneers Home Central Office, or call 465-4400 for further information. The application is also available on the Division of Alaska Longevity Programs Website at www.state.ak.us/admin.alp.pioneer.htm.
Marianne Mills oversees senior citizen nutrition and transportation programs in Juneau, Skagway, Sitka and Yakutat as a staff member of Southeast Senior Services, a program of Catholic Community Service. CCS assists all persons regardless of their faith.