COMMUNITY SPIRIT: Elder Care adapts, looks forward to reopening center

Sheri Gourd, Tahlequah Daily Press, Okla.
·4 min read

Feb. 15—Cherokee Elder Care is a Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly site in Tahlequah. It currently serves 182 participants within an area covering 32 ZIP codes.

The federal PACE program is designed to keep elders connected with their communities while they continue to live in their homes, and CEC has been able to continue to provide most services throughout the pandemic.

"The pandemic created many challenges for us, but many opportunities for success just like every other health care and long-term care facility. We were fortunate that most of our participants live in their own home and we could shift services to the home," said Cherokee Elder Care Executive Director Connie Davis. "Cherokee Elder Care worked with the State of Oklahoma to develop procedures for safely performing the in-home services that are still needed and can be performed by our staff."

Opened in 2008, Cherokee Elder Care combines the services of an adult day health center, primary care office, and rehabilitation facility into a single location, according to

"It began with forward-thinking of Cherokee Nation Tribal Council members, Cherokee Nation employees, and the Oklahoma Health Care Authority tribal representatives, who looked at this model of care, saw the significance of how elders would be helped, and began a journey that is still helping elders in Oklahoma today," said Thelma Pittman, Cherokee Elder Care CFO. "CEC became the first PACE to be sponsored by a Native American tribe, and is one of 11 rural PACE sites that are operational from the original 12."

Cherokee Elder Care is a nonprofit entity of the Cherokee Nation governed by the Cherokee Nation Comprehensive Care Agency board. Participants do not have to be Cherokee Nation citizens or Native American to enroll. The program is an option for those at least 55 years of age; who are certified as needing some level of nursing home care by Department of Human Services nurses; and who can live safely in a home environment within the program's service area.

CEC is an all-inclusive care program, and is the primary medical provider for those enrolled. This means the center provides all prescribed medications, therapy, nutrition counseling, home health services, social activities, transportation, laboratory services, social services, medical equipment, hospitalization, and nursing care, according to the CEC website. Normal services may include rehabilitation, meals and nutritional counseling, respite services, caregiver training, transportation, and more.

Physicians, registered nurses, nurse practitioners, therapists, social service workers, dietitians, and transportation specialists make up the CEC interdisciplinary team, which works to address the total needs of older adults.

"This provides a comprehensive continuum of care designed to maintain, and ideally, to improve the quality of life for our elderly. Inpatient services — temporary nursing home and hospital stays — and dental services are provided through partnerships with other providers," said Davis.

According to Thelma Pittman, Cherokee Elder Care CFO, many departments had to develop plans to aid participants while working from home to limit the number of staff in the facility and decrease the chance of exposure to COVID-19.

"Staff and our participants are grateful to our administrative team who quickly responded and created a plan and acted when the pandemic struck," said Pittman.

According to the National PACE Association, the rate of PACE residents who have died from COVID-19 are one third of those for nursing home residents. The rate of cases among PACE participants was also one third of those for nursing home residents.

One way CEC continued engaging with participants is through technology.

"We were able to start leasing 'Grand Pads' for telehealth visits and eventually for socialization for the participants. These 'Pads' are tablets that allow participants and staff to talk directly utilizing face-to-face calls for clinic visits and activities," said Pittman. "This device also allows participants to send emails back and forth with staff and have the ability to join Zoom meetings we will be planning for activities."

Many activities would normally be held on site in the CEC Adult Day Health Center, but that was forced to close until safer times.

"The Day Center is the hub of activity that many of our participants look forward to the socialization that it provides. When Cherokee Elder Care can reopen it's Day Center, a multitude of activities, such as live music, arts and crafts, exercise, groups discussions, billiards, games, and catching up with friends will be the topics," said Davis. "Cherokee Elder Care's activities department has provided and made sure participants had things to do while at home, giving them a new bag of crafts and activities every month."

The CEC staff who normally care for seniors on site shifted to working in the participants' homes doing personal care services.

"Our staff have also been diligently calling all of our participants weekly since the beginning of the pandemic to ensure they were doing well physically and mentally; also to check on supplies, food, medication or anything else they needed," said Davis.

Learn more

Cherokee Elder Care is still accepting applications for new participants and the initial process can be done over the phone. To learn more or to apply, call 918-453-5554 and ask for "intake."