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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Keeping seniors at home

Area group offers support for the elderly and their caregivers

Jodi Summit
Posted 11/23/22

ELY- The needs of elderly still living at home can at times seem immense. Northwoods Partners started in Ely in 2001, working to support clients and their caregivers to help them remain living …

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Keeping seniors at home

Area group offers support for the elderly and their caregivers


ELY- The needs of elderly still living at home can at times seem immense. Northwoods Partners started in Ely in 2001, working to support clients and their caregivers to help them remain living independently as long as possible. The group’s mission has grown ever since.
In 2004, they began offering transportation for medical appointments, as well as locally for errands. In 2008, Northwoods Partners began offering exercise programs focused on balance and preventing falls. In 2012, they added the Northwoods Memory Care program to help serve seniors with dementia, partnering with community health care providers to create more effective care for families. The organization supports seniors in Ely, Winton, Babbitt, Tower, Soudan, and surrounding areas.
Earlier this month, Program Director Lisa Porthan spoke to the Ely Tuesday Group about the organization, its volunteers, and the services it currently offers, both direct services, education and classes, senior activities, and caregiver support.
“Seventy-seven percent of seniors want to stay in their homes,” said Porthan, discussing results of a nationwide AARP survey. “And 25 percent of caregivers said it was difficult to find the help they needed to care for a senior at home.”
Northwoods Partners has begun its own in-depth surveys in the Ely area and has received more than 125 replies to date. Based on the data so far, help with cleaning and outdoor chores, transportation, meal preparation and managing medications are all among the top needs of area seniors trying to remain in their homes. Help with shopping, paying bills, bathing, and even friendly visits are other needs identified in the surveys. Respite care is also among the needs, as a way to give caregivers some time off.
As the mission has grown, so has the number of local volunteers. “We now have 83 volunteers working with us,” said Porthan. “It is miraculous. This community surrounds us with love.” Those volunteers helped over 500 area seniors last year, about three-quarters of whom were low income.
Volunteers help transport seniors to medical appointments, help with local shopping and errands, provide companionship in the home, become an exercise buddy, and help with other non-medical needs.
Volunteers are carefully matched with seniors, and the group provides training and mentoring during the initial volunteer time.
“Friendly visitors are matched with a senior, and will visit the same person week after week,” she said. “They can go out to lunch together or stay at home and play cards.”
Volunteers often form strong friendships with the seniors they are working with, she said, and both benefit greatly from the time spent together.
“The work we do really focuses on building relationships and connecting with each other,” she said. “It is so beautiful to see the differences being made in people’s lives.”
Porthan has been working at NP for 13 years. She had a background in social work but had taken time off to raise her young children. When she was ready to find a new job, NP was looking for a new director.
“I love this work,” she said. “I feel very fortunate.”
And right now, Porthan is taking all the knowledge she has gained to provide support for her own aging parents, who live in the Rochester area.
“I am living what I work,” she said. Last Friday she was headed down to Rochester to help her parents over Thanksgiving, but then headed back to Ely to help set up the group’s annual Festival of Trees fundraiser at the Grand Ely Lodge which starts on Nov. 24.
She had helped her parents move into a senior living complex, which offers some support, but soon realized her parents needed more services than what the family initially thought.
“I totally feel the pain of trying to navigate these situations,” she said.
Northwoods Partners doesn’t charge for any of the services they provide with their volunteers, though they now are working with a local company, Access North, to start providing more reliable personal care attendant (PCA) services in the area. The lack of such services in the area was a major problem for keeping some seniors in their homes.
“We interviewed a lot of PCA companies,” she said. “We were trying to figure out why it was a problem getting services.”
The issues included not having enough clients to serve in a rural area, the inability to pay PCAs mileage, as well as problems the companies were having hiring qualified PCAs.
Northwoods Partners started partnering with Access North, compiling a list of referrals to show there were enough clients to justify hiring a full-time worker for the Ely area, and also raised funds with help from a grant from the Northland Foundation to create some hiring bonuses. Porthan said PCA wages have also increased, and the state is paying for training for new PCAs at this time. They have also partnered with a skilled nursing provider agency, that is now offering a higher level of in-home care than a PCA can provide.
Access North can also help with projects to help keep a senior independently at home, such as installation of ramps, assistive technology referrals, veterans’ services, long-term care consultations, nursing home relocations, support groups and more.
Northwoods Partners also provides resources to caregivers and area medical professionals, including bringing in speakers on issues related to senior medical care and dementia care. They also sponsor a caregiver support group. The next meeting will be on Thursday, Jan. 26 from 10-11:30 a.m. at the Ely Senior Citizen Center. Northwoods Partners also provides one-on-one consultations for caregivers, and provides caregiver relief/respite services.
The group has also been publishing a monthly calendar of events, services, and senior dining menus that is inserted into the Ely Shopper. The calendar as well as their newsletter can be downloaded from their website at


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  • snowshoe2

    awesome program and also time for the parent's kids to step up and do more.

    Thursday, November 24 Report this