- Associated Press - Monday, October 9, 2017

ROCHESTER, Minn. (AP) - Judy Willis has been a care provider since she was 21, but for the last 18 years, she’s been doing more than carving out a piece of her day for the job.

Willis opened her doors to adult foster care in 1999 after her children had grown and started moving out, and she hasn’t looked back, the Post-Bulletin reported . She’s gone from caring for patients in various facilities to sharing her roof with as many as four clients at a time.

Willis said it might not be for everyone; the challenges can be great.

“Your life is going to change 100 percent,” she said of life as an adult foster care provider. “Everything you had going before, there is going to be a twist to it. When you do this, you have to understand that.”

At the same time, she said the rewards can be simple and outweigh the challenging times.

“The things I love to see is when the guys are laughing,” she said, but in talking to her, it’s also obvious she takes great pride in seeing her charges become independent.

Willis works exclusively with men dealing with mental illness. They’ve stayed with her for periods as short as weeks and as long as 13 years, and they’ve ranged in age from 18 to 64, but they all have one thing in common - a need for a home.

Outside of adult foster care, most clients would be placed in a care facility, rather than a home environment such as the one Willis‘ family and 92 others in Olmsted County are providing today.

Ellen Turner, Olmsted County’s adult foster care coordinator, said the homes make the county’s program the largest in Minnesota, caring for 248 clients.

There’s room to grow, she said, noting the county’s access to medical care fuels both an increased interest and an increased need for the program.

Anyone interested in investigating options can attend an Oct. 16 orientation, which is one of three such programs held this year. Turner said the goal is to help people see if opening their homes is right for them.

Roxanne Senne did just that about a decade ago. She had managed a care facility in the past and was getting tired of the corporate world. At the same time, she wasn’t certain providing care in her home was the right fit.

The child of a mother who suffered bouts of mental illness, she knew the work was time-intensive and provided around-the-clock challenges. Still, she knew she had something to offer.

“It’s kind of embedded in me,” she said.

So, she started slowly, taking in people temporarily when their care providers needed a break or had to be out of town. It let her test the waters and discover she wanted to do more.

Today, she and her husband, Jim, take in as many as four clients at a time, providing a style of care that mixes Roxanne’s experience in running a care facility with the home environment they have created in a quiet neighborhood.

She said she works with each person who comes into their home to establish a daily plan, as well as potential goals. Working with men and women dealing with mental illness or other disabilities, she said independence always is the primary goal, which is why she sets a course early.

“I always do a two-week honeymoon when they come in,” she said, noting it’s a time to focus on needs of their new family member.

Senne and Willis note each foster home is different, which is why it’s important to have a variety of options to provide care to a diverse population.Joy Forsberg has taken her adult foster care career in a different direction. A former worker in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, she caters to seniors, especially those dealing with dementia.

She said she wanted to open her doors to provide an alternative. “Often people think a nursing home is the only option,” she said.

Forsberg is licensed to care for up to five people, in addition to her father. She said doing it with the help of a part-time worker can be challenging, but similar to the others, she said it has its rewards.

“Everybody teaches you something,” she said, noting it’s been a privilege to care for many people in the last 10 years, especially knowing she helped them stay in a place that feels like home.

“People pass away in my home,” she said. “I keep them until the end.”

Because providers can establish how they run their homes within state guidelines, Turner said each home is unique. By having many homes, she said the county can grow opportunities for people needing adult foster care.

To continue growing the opportunities, Olmsted County’s orientation program seeks to cover every aspect of providing care to ensure potential providers have all the information they need.

Those who think they might be ready to take on the challenge, as well as reap potential rewards, can attend the Oct. 16 orientation. Turner said attendance doesn’t imply a commitment but is merely a way of seeing if it’s the right path for the individual.

Ultimately, she said the goal is to find the one thing that unifies all successful foster homes.

“We want people who have a heart for this,” she said.

___

Information from: Post-Bulletin, https://www.postbulletin.com

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