Leading with heart: Rewarding work with seniors turns three-month job into long-term commitment

Senior Care Partners P.A.C.E. offers seniors an all-inclusive plan that includes preventive care, medical care, and support services.
Most people, when they retire, look forward to quiet days of relaxation and the pursuit of favorite hobbies. Not Sally Berglin. 

When a friend called to urge her to consider a position with Senior Care Partners P.A.C.E. (SCPP), a long-term comprehensive health care program that enables elderly adults to live at home in their communities for as long as medically and socially possible, Berglin was reticent about the offer. 

For 38 years, Berglin had been a part of Bronson Healthcare Group in Kalamazoo. By the conclusion of her career, she had achieved the position of vice president for Bronson. During the years of her career, she had become aware of the work that went on at SCPP. She had heard good things—but was it worth coming out of retirement to take on yet new challenges?

A factor in her decision was the fact that she was a caregiver herself. Berglin’s mother was suffering what Berglin recognized as the early signs of dementia—the memory loss, the confusion, the repeated questions. Living in the same household with her mother, Berglin also understood the challenges of being a caregiver. She shared those responsibilities with her son, but it wasn’t an easy job. 

Berglin considered the kind of help SCPP offered not only to elderly adults but simultaneously to their caregivers. She got it. She said yes to the job offer. 

A therapy dog and a staff member help a participant on an exercise bike. “I retired in 2014,” Berglin says. “And initially, I accepted the position of CEO at Senior Care Partners for what I thought would be three months. An interim position. But three months later, I said I would stay. I had fallen in love with the organization.”

There was much to love, Berglin says. SCPP offered seniors an all-inclusive plan that includes preventive care, medical care, and support services. In its four locations—Kalamazoo, Portage, Battle Creek, and Albion—SCPP made it possible for its participants to age in place, in their own homes and communities, but also offered an adult day health center.

“Our participants get to stay in their own homes, but they also have an opportunity to be social,” Berglin says. “Our transportation services can bring them from their homes to our day health center where they can enjoy a variety of activities and programs. I love hearing their cheerful voices filling the room.”

It hasn't always been that way. Over the first years of the pandemic, SCPP, like so many organizations, had to limit in-person activities. While many organizations and businesses lost staff or went begging for new hires as COVID rates went down, Berglin’s new career began with an uncanny ability to connect with both staff and participants. New hires came knocking. 

“I’ve watched how staff interacts with our new CEO,” says Katherine Kemp, director of marketing and enrollment at SCPP. “Her love for the organization shows, along with her enthusiasm, and it’s contagious. People respond to her in kind.”

Berglin began her work as CEO by first shadowing other staff members. She shadowed physicians to see how the medical care was managed. She spent time talking to various staff members to learn how each performed their job and what they offered to participants. 

“It’s mind-boggling to me that more places don’t have this kind of service available,” she says. “Only 31 states have P.A.C.E. organizations—that stands for Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly. As Baby Boomers are aging, our senior population is growing. When people find out something like this is available, they want it.”

One of the most desired services that SCPP offers is the transportation available to participants. In safe and comfortable vehicles, SCPP provides medically necessary transportation to the P.A.C.E. centers for activities or medical appointments. Vehicles are equipped with wheelchair and walker lifts. 

In-home services are also high on participant lists for what they are seeking in care. Home care services include cleaning, meal preparation, grocery shopping, laundry, and bathing. Staff spend the time with participants to make sure they are comfortable, and their needs are met. 

“We are an extension of people’s families here,” Berglin says. “So many families these days live long distance, so having their loved ones cared for in their homes gives them peace of mind. They appreciate us—and we appreciate them.”

For those who choose to be transported to the day health centers to spend time with others, activities include virtual music performances, cognitive games, group, and individual fitness activities such as cardio drumming, seated exercise, seated dance, pet therapy, spiritual programs, arts and crafts, adapted gardening, and much more. 

A participant works on an arts and crafts project. SCPP has participants under an umbrella of interdisciplinary care, so they need not worry about missing medical appointments. Whatever the need, SCPP has medical staff on-site, and if a participant requires a specialist, SCPP makes the connections and transports the participant to all medical appointments. 

Services on-site include hearing, dentistry, vision, psychiatry, speech therapy, nursing, physical and occupational therapies, and nutritional services. A primary care provider is available by phone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. 

“I can understand first-hand how caregivers feel,” Berglin says. “Right now, my mother lives at home with me and my son, so we can take turns caring for her. But I realize someday she will need something like this. And I will be grateful for the help that Senior Care Partners provides for families like mine.”

Berglin heads out again for one of her many rounds through the SCPP building. She stops to talk with one participant, then another, then another. She chats with a nurse, pokes her head into the physician’s office to say hello, waves to an administrator. She may have given up retirement, but she has gained another family.

“I know, I said three months and those months have come and gone,” Berglin says with a smile. “But I love coming here every day and seeing these people, hearing these cheerful voices, and being a part of something so meaningful to so many.”

For more information
To learn more about Senior Care Partners P.A.C.E., visit www.seniorcarepartnersmi.org or call 269.441.9319. 
 

Read more articles by Zinta Aistars.

Zinta Aistars is the creative director of Z Word, LLC. She is the producer and host of the weekly radio show, Art Beat, on WMUK.