In 1977, the Senior Care Action Network, now known as SCAN was formed.  Experts in medicine, gerontology, psychology and social services were brought together to deliver on a mission to keep seniors healthy and independent through a variety of divisions and services and various community benefit programs including SCAN Health Plan and Independence at Home. We’re pleased to share an interview with one of our many dedicated friends at SCAN, specifically Denise Likar, vice president of the Independence at Home division.

BlueSea: As a trusted source to connect seniors with resources and assistance needed to remain in their communities, can you talk specifically about the Independence at Home division you oversee?

Denise Likar: Absolutely! It’s something very near and dear to my heart and I’ve been with Scan for 18 years, and all 18 of my years have been in within Independence at Home. Independence at Home is kind of like the founding organization. We’re like a Social Services Agency, if you will, that is part of Scan Health Plan. We’re focused out in the community at large to help seniors and their caregivers navigate the system of care, navigate the safety net services that are out there so that seniors can remain at home. Sometimes seniors engage with us for help on how to navigate their health plan and resources, which can be very complicated. Sometimes, someone knows they need help with something but they don’t know the right program to ask for.  So we’ll help navigate that help to link people to those resources. But also, sometimes there are gaps in care out there. And so Scan has worked through those gaps through their Independence at Home division.

We also have an in home behavioral health program, medication safety program. And we also have a volunteer program where we will pair volunteers with seniors in order to have companionship and to combat social anxiety. So all of our services are strategically designed based on gaps in care we’ve seen out in the community, but encompassing all of it is, somebody can just call us on the phone, say, I don’t know where to go. And we’re going to help you, we’re going to help you either get to the right place, or get you to the right resource or get you in the right program, that we have an order to help you be able to stay in the community.

BlueSea: That’s great! And sometimes, you may connect them with BlueSea Care for home care services?

Denise Likar: Absolutely. Even for our art to wellness program because we also have a very popular painting program for seniors. So that’s awesome!

BlueSea: What are some of the challenges of the new aging economy?

Denise Likar: Sure. So one of the things that happened in last, the last couple of years here in California in the budget cycle, is the state has really assessed the demographics. So the largest growing population in California is the 65 and over segment, and they are outpacing the younger populations. So you’ve got that impact on the state, meaning we have more seniors here, we have to have an understanding of that. And we have to have the right services for them. With changes in modern medicine and technology, people are living longer, they’re healthier, and quite frankly, working longer. The old days of 65 as retirement age are gone and many of our seniors are staying in the workforce. So with all of this, we have to not only be able to have the ability to understand their needs and provide programs that meet their needs, we also have to understand them as contributors in the workforce.

We also have to have a workforce that understands seniors to support those seniors who aren’t working and need their help. So all of that feeds into the economy of the state and the local needs in many of our communities.

One thing Scan is doing to try to contribute positively to this is we have a scholarship program with Cal State Long Beach where we are providing 10 scholarships per academic year for students who are choosing to go into work related to gerontology. So maybe they’re going to be a nurse, but they want to focus on working with older adults. We want to make sure they get properly trained. Maybe they’re a social worker that wants to focus on older adults or a physical therapist. These areas apply for this scholarship. And we’re promoting that people need to know that there’s a deeper understanding needed so that our seniors can continue to thrive,

BlueSea: That’s wonderful. So how many scholarships have you awarded?

Denise Likar: So we’ve given out a total of 20. And we’re now working on plans for next year’s slate. So it’s an annual process partnership with Cal State Long Beach and it’s been fabulous. But we know that in an economy that has to be able to understand, accept and work with older adults, you need the right people in the right places that understand that and understand how to work with them.

BlueSea: How do you help ensure thriving throughout, especially now during this pandemic?

Denise Likar: 2020 has been a wild year for everybody and the twists and turns. And if you’re a planner like me, who likes to think you know, six feet ahead, man, it’s been hard. And so I know it’s been hard on people like us. It’s been hard on families, but it’s been hard on our older adults. And so, you know, we’ve always are encouraging our older adults to find their perpetual purpose.

A lot of people don’t have a plan post retirement. They have not thought about how they are going to spend their time. Work brings us a lot of things and socialization is one of them. And then the pandemic was a little bit of a real curve-ball especially with stay at home orders. People, especially our older adults being told you’re at high risk, you shouldn’t be going to extra places, you shouldn’t be getting together in large groups and our senior centers are closing down. You know, I think it’s really pushing us to really get connected to technology like this type of platform to be able to engage with people.

Having a plan for post-retirement is one thing, but I think the bottom line is we’ve learned with this pandemic, it’s connectivity. How do we connect with people in our  lives? Some people have more people than others have in their lives. So how do we connect them to agencies like yours, like ours, like senior centers that have gone virtually online in order for them to continue to engage to prevent isolation and  loneliness? Something like this really can have such negative effects on our health and our well-being. So we want to help people realize their own purpose, and especially connectivity and being able to engage.

There’s still what I’ll call a digital divide. And certain segments of our seniors, if they do  have grandchildren or children who understand the technology and can get it for them,  they can sometimes move along a little faster in their adoption of it. There’s a large segment of our seniors out there who have outlived family members or are alone for whatever reason. And so we’re really trying to connect them to these platforms as well and help them get access to technology.

With the governor’s order to close that digital divide for older adults, we’re trying to help with that through some of our programs. I’m hoping that statewide we’ll see more efforts to help people who don’t understand how to get connected, get connected so they can engage in classes like yours or services like ours, in order to be able to remain healthy at home.

BlueSea: That’s great! We were surprised about the quick shift to telehealth and virtual gatherings. Overnight, our Painting with Mom classes went from in-person to virtual. And we thought that virtual was going to be a problem. But we actually now have a really great following of seniors participating in our painting classes every week. One of the topics Scan helps to address is depression and anxiety in seniors and their caregivers. Can you please share how you help to address these and other challenges?

Denise Likar: Absolutely. So we, we created our own behavioral health program, due to gaps in care that we saw out in the community. The one thing about being in the community with boots on the ground is we can see what’s missing. Behavioral health is a weakness in health care in terms of access, affordability, delivery, and it varies from plan to plan. It varies in Medicare, it varies if you’re on Medicare, what types of services you can and can’t access.

What we identified is we have a lot of seniors who can’t access those traditional services. Maybe the barrier is their physical condition prevents them from being able to travel to a location to see somebody, maybe they have been offered telephonic, but that really doesn’t work for them. Or maybe it’s not delivered in their language, their native language, the language that they prefer to speak in.

We created our program called “Insights” to fill the gaps for those seniors. We use validated therapeutic modalities. We have licensed clinicians that will work with caregivers who have so much going on in their lives, they don’t have time to take care of themselves, let alone get to a clinic or a site between eight and five, let’s say. So we need to bring services to the community to really help them address those barriers that are causing their anxiety and depression.  

We help them connect with their providers about their needs so that they can improve and move along the continuum to increase their quality of life. We provide those services in home. We also provide them telephonically. And we have moved into more of the virtual world with video sessions as well, trying to help connect with those individuals and help empower them and guide them through a process to improve.

BlueSea: Is there a favorite quote or saying that motivates you in your work?

Denise Likar: So something that’s always stuck with me goes way back to when I was choosing my career path. It is the old adage of the starfish and the person walking down the beach and finds a bunch of starfish. There’s no possible way they can save them all. But when they throw back one starfish at a time, they make a difference. So although I want to change the world to make it a better place for everybody, I have to pace myself and understand that sometimes it’s one person at a time, one group at a time.

We can systematically weave that together to have a larger impact on the communities we serve. So one starfish at a time, two at a time, we’re able to help people be safe, healthy and independent, and who doesn’t want to be at home and have their own choice of where they age and grow old. I take that with me to everything I do as we plan and try to figure out a path forward and then hopefully can spread those ripple effects from that. And we can all work together on bringing those starfish back to the ocean.

BlueSea: Anything else you’d like to add?

Denise Likar: I think what’s really important to understand is, it’s confusing enough out there without a pandemic on where to go and where do I get help? I think organizations like yours and ours are so important to be there and be open. And I think what the pandemic has taught us all is to be nimble and find a different way to do things. Because this has lasted probably longer than we all anticipated so I think the safety net that we are a part of is so important. Our seniors and our caregivers need to understand that you don’t have to be hanging by a thread to ask us for help. You could just have a small thing going on in your life that you’re confused about. We’re here to help with that.

One thing I would add is how important in these times it is for organizations like yours and ours to be working together to support our seniors being able to remain healthy and living in the community, especially with a pandemic. We’ve all been challenged to find new ways to engage and work together.

Back in March, we probably didn’t think this would last as long as it has. But here we are still are in this altered state until we can find a path forward. But agencies like yours, ours and other others that support seniors have all been working really hard to be there, no matter what the need is. And I think our seniors and our caregivers need to realize is, you’re not alone. And you don’t have to wait until things are bad to ask for help or even ask questions.

You know, we’re all here to help navigate. We’re all here and no question is a dumb question. We’re here to serve. We’re here to help. We want everybody to thrive and be successful in the community. And so I love opportunities like this to collaborate, and be able to put that message together for people to say, “Hey, no matter what it is, we’re here to support you. And if we can’t support you, we’re going to get you to somebody else who can. We’re not going to leave you high and dry.

BlueSea: What is the number for Scan’s Independence at Home?

Denise Likar: The number is 1-866-563-7380