Laura Vaillancourt grew up in the very rural community of Republic, Washington. The town of Republic, nestled in the valley between Wauconda and Sherman passes had only 1,073 residents in the 2010 census. Laura’s mother was a nurse at the closest hospital and Laura and her sister often accompanied their mother to work. This small hospital provided all levels of care, from emergency to nursing home and hospice.
Laura has fond memories of the hours spent with the hospital patients, often in the final days of their lives. She became comfortable with the elderly, those with dementia and the process of dying. She learned, from watching the nurses, how to compassionately be with people who were confused, medically compromised and at the end of life. This early experience helped shape her understanding of what aging may look like, and she knew she would someday work with older adults as a professional.
Fortunately for the residents of Thurston County, she has made that dream a reality at Eldercare Counseling and Guidance Services located in Olympia. Today Laura is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor and a Geriatric Mental Health Specialist. I sat down with Laura in her clinic to discuss the multitude of ways her business is helping families with aging issues.
Eldercare Counseling and Guidance Services serves both the private sector and clients on Medicaid through their State contracts. Eldercare is equipped to help families navigate the complexities of getting help. “We are familiar with the resources that are available and can guide families to the right ones for them,” says Laura. Many folks come to Eldercare for guidance in determining a level of care for their loved one. Some clients will need help getting into an assisted living facility, “We know the facilities and adult family homes in the area and can help with finding appropriate placement and navigating the Medicaid system,” Laura explains. Other clients may wish to stay in their home and Eldercare can help with resources for in-home visits from companies like FirstLight Home Care. “Our primary goal is to find a solution that works for the whole family while honoring the autonomy of the older adult,” says Laura.
A single consultation can save thousands of dollars in the long run by guiding clients to the proper agencies and setting up appropriate care planning and support. Eldercare can provide support to both the elderly and their families, recognizing that there can be difficult changes in family relationships. Family caregiver stress is ranked the second highest of all the stressors we experience in today’s busy world. The team at Eldercare provides guidance and support for families who are facing difficult decisions about their loved one.
Laura describes the daughter who is visiting from out of town and suddenly realizes that her mother is no longer doing very well living independently. The situation can feel overwhelming and the needs are great. Laura says she likes to get the story by “holding space” for the client. They often pour out all the information about what has been happening and what the problems and concerns are. Laura and her team are able to quickly assess and prioritize the practical needs that need to be addressed. The Aging Life Care Association has come up with a matrix of knowledge areas that, as aging life care professionals, Eldercare uses to address needs. Housing and local resources just scratch the surface of their experience. Crisis intervention, legal help, counseling and advocacy are well within the realm of guidance that Eldercare can provide.
As a society, we understand the physical needs of the aging population but Laura and her team at Eldercare recognize there are emotional and mental issues to be addressed as well. The loss associated with memory impairment and losing independence can be debilitating. Laura understands the power of human touch and connection. Members of the aging population can experience depression and those with dementia often don’t have the language to express their emotions. At Eldercare they are trained to help those with cognitive impairment cope with their new and changing situations. Eldercare strives to provide a holistic and kind approach to this growing segment of our population by partnering with other organizations and resources for workshops, conscious aging groups and education.
The staff at Eldercare works closely with the South Sound Alzheimer’s Council. In addition to their years of community service, they are able to collaborate with the council to contract free one-time consultations. In addition to providing resources for families coping with memory impairment, the South Sound Alzheimer’s Council holds a conference once a year and hosts our local South Sound Alzheimer’s Walk. All money raised in Thurston County stays local to help families in our community.
I was so impressed with Laura’s compassion for the elderly and their families. In her own words “I can’t believe I get to do this for a job!” Visit the Eldercare website for more information on their services at www.eldercarecounselor.com.
Eldercare Counseling and Guidance Services
3525 Ensign Road NE, Suite G
Olympia, WA 98506