Grant funded program helps keep elders CAPABLE of aging in place


February 17, 2022

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This highly CAPABLE team works together to support seniors in Petersburg to age in place. Pictured left to right are: Jessica Baker (Occupational Therapist), Julie Walker (Community Wellness Coordinator), Kirsten Testoni-Roux (Home Health Manager), and Stephanie Romine (Home Health Nurse).

A local doctor initially spoke to Paul Bowen about a new program aimed at allowing older community members to maintain their independence and continue living at home. Bowen was hesitant at first, but once the topic came to the attention of his daughters, who were already aware of CAPABLE, they immediately began encouraging their father to give it a try.

He did and now he has no plans of leaving his home.

"I'm glad I had a chance to do it and I'm glad I stayed with it," Bowen says. "It's been a good program and I was fortunate to be one of the people selected."

Bowen recently sat down with CAPABLE coordinator Julie Walker for an interview about his experience as one of the first group of participants in the program.

Walker says, CAPABLE is a participant-driven program offering basic education, assistive devices and home modifications. The only qualification is the person needs to be 60 or older and have a desire to maintain their quality of life. Walker says, the program could even benefit an older person with a solid support system already in place, like a daughter or son checking on them regularly.

There's no need to get a referral from your doctor. If you are interested or have questions about CAPABLE just reach out to Walker. She handles the administrative side of things. From there, she hands over care to specially-trained registered nurses and an occupational therapist. The team makes eight to 10 home visits and rely on licensed and bonded contractors to complete home repairs, if necessary.

"This program is designed to keep you doing what you're doing," Walker says. "It's putting you in charge, so that you can stay independent and stay safe in your own home."

CAPABLE was developed over a decade ago by Johns Hopkins University, and research shows it improves the health of participants, while lowering their medical costs. Decreasing hospitalizations and falls, increasing safety and medication management, things like this really can have a positive impact on a person's pocketbook and self-confidence.

The story of how this program came to town all started with one of the hospital's Community Cafes on aging, held before COVID came along. The discussion came around to what options were available for people getting older in the community and the concept of "aging in place." The interest spurred the hospital to secure grant money from the state's Department of Health and Social Services. This means there is no charge for participation.

One cool aspect to the program is the nurses for CAPABLE also handle duties for Home Health at the hospital. This has proven valuable for all parties involved. Once a person's medical needs are met with Home Health, they might recommend CAPABLE or vice versa. That happened with Bowen, and seeing familiar faces made the transition easy. He welcomed the positive energy of "the gals" as he fondly refers to them, right into his house.

It's the same place Bowen has lived since 1968-one of the first houses on Sandy Beach. It's the home he shared with his wife, after walking away from a career as a field geologist, because he wanted to spend more time with her. It's the same home he left in the morning and returned to at night for 36 years while teaching locally.

"Fortunately, I have a retirement so I can live on that. I surely couldn't afford to go to the Manor," Bowen says. "And I wouldn't care to anyway because I spent so much time with so many of my friends up there."

Staying as active as possible is important to him. Last summer, Bowen could be found camping on beaches during the trolling season. His daughters travel from abroad to spend time fishing with their father, and he's been at it annually since '68.

"We don't make a lot of money, but it's a good lifestyle. It keeps the family together and it always has," Bowen says. "I look forward to it every year."

He refers to himself as a "slipper skipper" because he cannot work on the boat anymore. Stability issues get the better of him, but he still goes. Pretty remarkable considering he will turn 90 at the end of the month. Well, technically, he'll turn 22 and a half because he was born on a leap year- yet another interesting fact about this man.

For Bowen, it felt like he wouldn't have to leave his home if he could find a little help. Some of the biggest eye-openers for him during the CAPABLE experience were seemingly small safety issues. Grab bars were installed making Bowen feel more comfortable about moving around his home. Fire alarms were upgraded. Helpful hacks for getting dressed and keeping track of medications were also implemented.

There are a couple other factors helping Bowen stay home, like the fact he has a cleaning person come in to "keep the runway clear." This is largely done to prevent him from falling. Bowen's daughters also recently talked him into adding a studio apartment in the back of the house so help has a place to stay.

The space is currently being occupied by Eric Lee. Bowen taught Lee years ago, and now the ex-student does little things to help his old teacher out. It's a formal arrangement, with Lee receiving some money for his services, but it doesn't amount to much. The pair get along well, so spending time together isn't difficult at all.

When running errands, Bowen still legally drives himself on occasion, but for the most part these days Lee is the one behind the steering wheel if they are cruising together. Although, Lee admits, there really isn't anything quick about making a trip anywhere in town when you're with a beloved man like Bowen.

"Everyone wants to talk to Paul," Lee says, giving a chuckle. "They see him and remember him as a great teacher that everybody liked."

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Paul Bowen was among the CAPABLE program's first group of participants.

Lee says, Bowen spent countless hours staying after school offering extra help so students could bring up their grades. Now, the tables have turned, but Bowen isn't phased, because it was easy working with the caring and knowledgeable people involved with the CAPABLE program.

Bowen says the gals brought new ideas or tools with them every time one of them showed up. Many of these were things Bowen never thought of but greatly appreciated. And during each visit the gals reminded him to contact them if he needed anything, anything at all. Their sentiments were sincere, and he encourages other to think about what the program could do for them.

"What I found out about CAPABLE, is that it's enabled me to have a better quality of life than I could have anywhere else," Bowen says. "It's been a comfortable way to slip into this stage of life."

CAPABLE coordinator Julie Walker is currently looking for participants and can be reached by phone at 907-772-5552 or email


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