Knitting groups


Purple Knitting ProjectFor a small group of Homeland Center residents, their twice-weekly knitting circle isn’t just a chance to chat as they create intricate patterns. These four ladies knit with a purpose – creating slippers for homeless women and children.

The effort started in the early 2000s, when a former resident taught some friends the simple pattern for slippers, knitted in one piece, folded, and sewn together at the seams.

“We make them from very small to real big,” says Lou Hepschmidt, the knitting group’s unofficial leader.

The resulting slippers are taken to the Women and Children’s Shelter at nearby Bethesda Mission. Since 1914, Bethesda Mission has provided food and shelter for Harrisburg area’s homeless and hungry.  Like Homeland Center, the shelter was founded to provide compassionate care for those who had nowhere else to turn.

The Homeland knitting group is an egalitarian bunch, open to anyone who wants to sit and knit a while. An endless supply of yarn comes from the members’ own stashes of skeins accumulated over the years.

“We have patterns galore, and knitting materials,” says Hepschmidt. “Needles and supplies, we have plenty of. Nobody has to buy anything to join our group.”

Knitter Mary Andrews recalled that history is full of women knitting for others in need, including her time knitting socks for soldiers in World War II. She’s glad to continue the tradition.

“Many of these people come into this shelter with nothing except the clothing on their back,” she says.

“It’s a good feeling every time I finish one of these,” Hepschmidt agrees. She recalls delivering booties that were hardly in the building for a minute before a mother had them on her baby’s feet. “Most of them have nothing,” she says.

Betty Ludwig also knits stocking caps – more than 100 in recent years – that her church distributes to the poor or sells for fundraisers. While she knits, she thinks about her small part in easing the burden on struggling mothers.

“I’m very pleased that I can make some hats to help keep their children warm in the winter,” Ludwig says. “It’s a good feeling to know that you’re using your spare yarn to help these children.”

Shirley Fisher recalls the time they took hats to the shelter and were rewarded with applause. “It was cold weather,” she says, “and none of them had any hats.” As she knits, she thinks about the children who will use the slippers or hat, and she prays “that parents are good to their children.”

Ludwig likes to think about the distances that their hand-knit items travel and the places they take their recipients.

“Our knitting goes pretty far,” she says. “Just think how excited a child would be when they’re handed a hat or scarf. It gives you a good feeling.”

Guiding a loved one with dementia toward the right kind of care


It’s perhaps the most insidious of all diseases. Dementia doesn’t sicken the body. It steals the mind, slowly robbing an individual’s very essence, their personality. All that makes them who they are.

Up against this kind of foe, families often need help for a loved one with dementia. But how best to guide a loved one frightened by their own mental lapses toward the right kind of care for their worsening condition?

It can be a delicate process. But it should begin when families first notice profound changes in an older loved one’s behavior, appearance or habits. The next step is seeking out the proper medical testing to confirm a dementia diagnosis.

It’s often said that dementia in its many forms isn’t simply forgetting where one put the keys. It’s not remembering what the keys are for.

Debbie HaasDebbie Haas, director of skilled-care admissions and the 21- bed Ellenberger Unit for those with dementia, advises family members to be aware of subtle changes in a loved one’s usual routines. Are bills going unpaid? Is their hygiene slipping? Are they wearing the same clothes? Not eating well? Forgetting to take their medicine?

Family members who live nearby will be in the best position to notice these early signs. Those who live further away will have to ask more detailed questions during phone conversations, or check with friends and neighbors to ask after a loved one.

“It’s easier to cover things up on the phone,” notes Haas. “You’re not going to ask the day’s date and who the president is. You ask what you did today. And people try to compensate.”

Preparing to begin the conversation: Do a little research first

Once warnings signs are detected and a medical diagnosis is established, it’s time to begin a conversation about a loved one’s future care. But first, families should get familiar with the facts on the progression of dementia and Alzheimer’s.

“Gather information,” Haas encouraged. “Know what to expect, and know what the care is like.”

She recommends resources like the Alzheimer’s Association and the dementia care book, entitled “The 36-hour Day.”

Still, beginning the conversation with a loved one with dementia is difficult for so many reasons. But since the loved one’s mental abilities will only get worse with time, it’s important to begin a dialogue as soon as a diagnosis is confirmed.

The best strategy is to simply state the facts, Haas said.

“You say, ‘these are the things I’ve noticed’,” Haas says, advising family members to objectively detail the behaviors of their loved one. “Tell them, ‘we are all going to have difficulty living on our own at some point. Maybe it’s time to think about what to do next.'”

Don’t expect that first conversation to settle the matter. Far from it.

“It’s difficult,” Haas acknowledges. “People are in denial about their level of dementia. Maybe they are at the point of having delusions or blaming other people for what is happening. They might say, ‘You are making this up.’ You can have extreme denial about the confusion. Others do see they are having trouble and they get to the point of acceptance in their dementia. But taking a person out of their home is a hard thing.”

Once a family begins the dialogue with a loved one, it’s important to keep at it.

Timing counts when talking to a loved one with dementia about care options

Even the time of day can make a difference when reasoning with a loved one with dementia. Mornings are best. And never approach someone who is irritable or openly hostile. Wait for the right time.

“Read the patient,” advises Haas. “As the day progresses, they get more confused. We call this sun-downing. As the day goes on, as they are more tired, it does change them. Gauge when your loved one is more awake and lucid. Don’t bring it up when they are frustrated, or you are frustrated. Bring up the conversation when everyone is clam.”

It’s also advisable for the family to obtain medical and financial powers of attorney, along with a living will as soon as possible. Because sooner or later, the family will have to make decisions for the loved one with dementia. It’s just a reality of the disease.

“If they can be involved great, but in the end you going to have to make the decisions,” Haas points out. “Because they will not be able to.”

It’s also recommended that families begin researching and visiting skilled and dementia care facilities as soon as a loved one is diagnosed. Progression of the disease is different for every patient, and there is no telling how quickly a person may need care.

At Homeland Center, families can put in an application for their loved one and then place it on hold for their future medical need. This ensures the right care is available when it’s needed.

“We recommend the family puts an application in,” Haas says. “I’m not calling them every time a bed comes open, but they can call me when they are closer to needing this level of care. Then, they probably will be at the top of the list, or close to it. So apply, and ask the facility to hold the application.”

Because dementia is a progression. And so is finding the right level of care for a loved one dealing with dementia.

Talking to a loved one about transitioning to a personal care residence


Maybe you get scared after seeing an older loved one fall. Or your mom or dad is getting more than a little confused — not forgetting the keys but forgetting what they are for. Perhaps a former happy homemaker begins letting things go; the house is dirty, personal hygiene slips.

Any of these could be signs that it’s time to begin a dialogue about the loved one’s options for entering a personal care residence or skilled nursing facility.

It’s never an easy conversation. But when a loved one’s health, safety and well-being are at stake, it’s time for caring, committed family members to broach the subject.

What follows are some strategies, tips and pointers for making that caring conversation not only a little bit easier — but a whole lot more effective.

The sage advice comes courtesy of two experts in the field of ensuring that aging individuals obtain the exact kind of care they need: Debbie Haas, Homeland Center’s director of skilled care and the Ellenberger Unit coordinator, which handles Alzheimer’s and dementia patients; and Ginger Sergott, Homeland Center’s director of personal care.

Getting past the guilt

Food PlateThe first thing families considering any kind of residential care for their aging loved one need to know is that nobody has failed.

Seeking out a personal care residence or nursing facility is not tantamount to abdicating one’s responsibilities as a family caregiver. It isn’t a failing on the aging loved one’s part, either, that he or she simply can no longer live on their own. People get old. Health declines. And in a busy world full of many responsibilities, most families can’t take care of an aging loved one by themselves.

Far from being a sign of failure, the decision to seek out a personal or nursing care facility could be the best thing a family can do for a loved one in need of those services.

“Sometimes giving the best care to your family member isn’t actually giving them that care,” Homeland’s Debbie Haas reminds us. “It’s finding the best place where they can get that care. Sometimes, that isn’t at home. Doing the best for your family member isn’t always keeping them at home. Sometimes, transitioning to a care facility is the best thing you can do for them.”

Enlisting an ally: The family doctor

Seniors at a tableOnce a family has seen the signs of decline in an aging loved one and decided they can no longer live on their own, the next step is to convince the loved one that a change is needed. In this, it’s better not to go it alone.

First, all family members should be onboard, including any out-of-town siblings who might not be current on all the declining loved one’s care requirements. Bring them up to speed and inform them of the care options you are considering.

Then, enlist one more ally: The family doctor. Remember, in your loved one’s eyes, you’re their son or daughter. As much as you love them and want the best for them, your opinion might not carry much weight. Especially when it comes to such a life-changing decision.

But another opinion does count. And it carries much weight, especially among the older set: That of their family doctor. So bring the loved one’s primary care professional into the conversation. Have the “big talk” about transitioning into a care facility during a visit with the doctor. Ask the doctor to weigh in.

This should go a long way in getting your loved one onboard with this life-altering – but ultimately rewarding — transition.

Touring the facilities together

Example RoomYou’re almost there. With the help of your loved one’s doctor, you’ve convinced them that transiting to a personal care or nursing facility is the right move for their health, safety and welfare – not to mention maximizing their social life.

Now, it’s just a matter of finding the right facility. This should be a quest that you take together. Narrow the search down to a handful of options, and then tour these finalist facilities together.

One step inside today’s personal care and nursing facilities, such as those at Homeland Center, will instantly dispel the outmoded mental images still conjured by the word, “nursing home.” Both you and your loved one will breathe easier once glimpsing this firsthand reality check. But begin your search early to avoid waiting lists at preferred facilities.

And allow your loved one to participate in every aspect of the facility selection, including staff interviews, understanding the care features and programs and outlining the finances, to the extent the person is able.

After all, it’s their life. And having their say should go a long way toward making the transition to a personal care or nursing facility a smooth one.

It’s the caring choice for all involved.  And here at Homeland Center, we stand ready to help make it the right choice for your family and the loved you care about so deeply.

Entering our 146th year with commitment to top-quality service & charitable care


Recognized as one of the area’s best places to work and a recipient of Medicare’s top rating, Homeland Center is celebrating its 146th year of providing quality care to residents of Central Pennsylvania.

Chartered as the Home for the Friendless in 1867, Homeland originally sheltered destitute women and homeless children, including Civil War widows and orphans. Today, Homeland Center continues its tradition service as a personal care home and skilled nursing facility, with 50 state-of the-art personal care suites, 71-bed skilled care unit, and 21-bed Alzheimer’s and dementia unit.

Homeland’s recent five-star Medicare quality designation – Medicare’s highest recognition for quality in care, staffing, and safety – ranks it among the country’s elite continuing care retirement communities.

In keeping with its dedication to serving the community, Homeland Center established Homeland Hospice to help patients in the end stages of life and provide emotional support for their families.

“We are continuing a proud tradition, founded by citizens of Harrisburg who saw a need and gathered the resources to address it,” said Executive Director Barry S. Ramper II. “We are proud to carry on their legacy and to demonstrate, in our daily tasks and our outlook for the future, a history of caring.”

No resident in financial distress has ever been asked to leave, and Homeland’s commitment to charitable, uncompensated care stands as a resource for the community.

While Homeland is still located on its original Fifth Street site, the generosity of those who called the facility home and of their families has made the center one of Harrisburg’s gems. Among the amenities available to residents are a solarium, conservatory, aviary, gardens, pavilion, and courtyards boasting a butterfly pond and wheelchair-accommodating glider.

In providing unmatched care for its residents, Homeland looks to lessons from the hospitality field to create a welcoming and supportive environment, Ramper said.

“The first requirement of our administrative mission is to be considerate, respectful and proficient in serving our residents and family members,” said Ramper. “Every request or need is addressed as a top priority. We truly believe that caring for the elderly is a privilege and an honor, and our work every day is grounded in that philosophy.”

That spirit of caring and respect has also led to Homeland enjoying one of the highest staff retention rates in the personal care industry and being named “The Best Place to Work’’ for medium sized companies in Pennsylvania.

“Homeland built its foundation on caring for those who have no other options,” said Ramper. “That foundation remains rock solid, rooted in the genuine concern we feel for all residents and their family members.”