By Mary Jo Rohrer
Printed in the Philadelphia Gay News

Norma Tramel was confined to the isolation and stigmatization of life in a nursing home for four years, after suffering a ruptured hernia that put her in a coma. Once she regained her health, she began to yearn for the freedom that was taken away from her.

After four long years, Norma was able to transition out of the nursing home and move back into the community. She is now happily living back in her home with her daughter as one of her caregivers. Back in the community, she is now working toward becoming a drug and alcohol counselor.

Norma is one of the 50 people who transitioned out of nursing homes in 2017 through the support of Liberty Resources, Inc. (LRI). LRI advocates for and with people with disabilities to ensure their civil rights and equal access to all aspects of life in the community.

When given a choice, an overwhelming majority of people say they would prefer to age in place in their homes rather than in institutions. Nursing homes provide vital care for people needing a high-level of medical support. Yet, some residents also find life in a nursing home to be isolating and lacking in many of the joys they found when living independently.

The challenges of life in a nursing home can be even more pronounced for LGBT people. In a 2011 national survey from the National Senior Citizens Law Center, only 22% LGBT older adults in nursing homes reported feeling that they could be open about their identities with facility staff. Forty-three percent reported witnessing instances of mistreatment.

While transitioning out of a nursing home is not going to be an option for all residents, it is important that those who are able to do so are provided with the option to live independently and securely in their own homes in the community.

LRI’s Nursing Home Transition (NHT) department focuses on the steps to independence for those who are returning to the community after a nursing home stay. The NHT department is guided by Norma Robertson-Dabrowski, who herself transitioned out of a nursing home. The NHT team provides support for people as they transition back into the community, including assistance obtaining housing and coordinating services.

Transitions from a nursing home back into the community can cost upwards of $6,000. The NHT department operates a Transition to Freedom Fund which covers countless overhead costs associated with transitioning out of an institution.

LRI’s Independent Living Services Department (ILS) assists consumers once they are back living in the community. It offers financial planning, deaf outreach and advocacy, housing counseling, and peer support, some of the many services needed when navigating life after a nursing home stay.

LRI’s homecare agency, Liberty Resources Home Choices, provides attendant care for people who need assistance around the house in the community. Attendants provide personal care, homemaking, companionship, support in activities of daily living, and many other services.

Both LRI and Home Choices are Consumer-driven organizations, with 51% of the board of directors being people with disabilities.

One main barrier impacting people trying to transition out of nursing homes is that there is not enough affordable and accessible housing in Philadelphia to house people who are on Medicaid transitioning out of institutions. An entity of LRI, Liberty Housing Development Corporation has worked to break down this barrier for people with disabilities by both advocating for and providing much-needed affordable, accessible, and integrated housing throughout the city. There is nothing more empowering than having a place to call home.

Liberty Resources, Inc. strives to be one of the country’s leading Centers for Independent Living, liberating hundreds of consumers from the confines of nursing homes. LRI advocates tirelessly for the rights of people with disabilities and seniors, providing numerous services for people who desire extra support on the quest for independence.

If you or someone you know if living in nursing home and wants to explore transitioning back into the community, contact Liberty Resources Nursing Home Transition Team at 215-634-2000.

Mary Jo Rohrer is currently the Communications and Development Associate at Liberty Resources, Inc. in Philadelphia. To learn more about LRI’s services, visit their website which serves as a resource for all things advocacy and accessibility: Like LRI on Facebook @LibertyResourcesInc and follow them on Instagram and Twitter: @libertycil.

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