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Published July 18, 2011, 12:00 AM

Area adult foster care providers make clients part of their families

MOORHEAD - Once their four daughters were grown, Deb and Dave Soland wanted to adopt more children. But when a neck injury left Deb unable to handle the physical challenges of raising young kids, they shifted gears to adults.

By: Josie Clarey, INFORUM

MOORHEAD - Once their four daughters were grown, Deb and Dave Soland wanted to adopt more children.

But when a neck injury left Deb unable to handle the physical challenges of raising young kids, they shifted gears to adults.

“I knew there were people out there that I could provide care for,” Deb said.

In Clay County, the Solands are one of about 20 licensed adult foster care providers who offer a family setting for adults with intellectual disabilities and who can’t live alone.

Overall, there are about 140 licenses in Clay County for both adult foster care homes and group homes.

Deb was the first to get licensed in 2006, and Dave followed suit a few months later.

The Solands, who have four adult daughters, had their heart set on children when they were jump-started into a career in adult care.

“The biggest issue for me was how would we balance out our grandchildren and foster children?” Dave said. “That would be really tough to do, so I’m glad we chose adults.”

The couple got their start after friend and care provider Lynn Brach decided to evict a man she had been caring for. The man called Deb up and asked to move in – even before she was licensed.

In provided care, Deb had to be licensed through Clay County’s foster care program and have the couple’s home inspected.

In Minnesota, an adult foster home can have no more than five clients. North Dakota has similar rules, but the limit is four.

Funding for adult foster care typically comes through local, state and federal funding, most often through waivers. Clients or their families can also pay through private funds.

Either way, Hallman said care providers don’t go into the business to get rich, and adult foster care is one of the cheapest options out there.

“We don’t have as many family homes as maybe sometimes we think we should, but we have enough family homes for what we’re being referred,” said David Hallman, foster care licensor for Clay County. “It could be more because I think the nursing homes are so expensive.”

Tina Bay, director of the developmental disabilities division for the North Dakota Department of Human Services, said North Dakota has about 55 licensed adult foster care providers.

Routine is key

Since becoming licensed, a few clients have come and gone in the Soland home, and they currently care for two adults, Laurie Harmon, 48, and Carl Smerud, 43, full time in their home, something Dave wasn’t too sure about at first.

“I said, ‘Gosh, you know, we wouldn’t have any privacy,’ ” Dave said.

Deb, 54, is the main caregiver in the house, providing the majority of the care for the clients while Dave, 61, works full-time maintenance at the Clay County Courthouse.

Routine is a key component of life in the Soland house, with breakfast every morning, a hop on the bus to each client’s respective job, and dinner in the evening when they return home.

In the meantime, Deb oversees their medication and other medical requirements.

Nighttime is for socializing, and the Solands often take their clients out to dinner, movies, RedHawks baseball games and other activities.

“We just take advantage of the community,” Deb said.

Deb said her clients partake in every aspect of the Soland family life, including get-togethers, celebrations and holidays.

“My family welcomes my troupe. They just call and say, ‘Are you going to bring the people?’ ” Deb laughs. “We bring the people – the people are part of everything we do.”

‘Natural and easy’

One of the greatest challenges Deb has encountered so far is the full-time nature of the job.

“People think, ‘So they’re with you from 8 to 5,’ ” she said. “Well, no, they’re with me 24/7.”

Deb said she hasn’t really had a vacation in more than a year and a half.

“If you’re going to do an outing or go do something, you really have to plan it,” she said.

Additionally, seeing clients come and go can be difficult.

“You extend yourself, and you become part of their life in every way,” Deb said.

To plan for the future, Dave intends to retire from his job in the next year or so to help out with caregiving full time.

Though they are only caring for two clients, Deb said they can take in up to five.

“I’m a caregiver by nature and have been for many years, so it just kind of comes natural and easy and it does fulfill that side of me,” she said.

Personal connection

For Moorhead couple Lynn and Gary Brach, adult foster care was just the right – and compassionate – thing to do.

Lynn’s work at an assisted living center for six years moved her to work with elderly women with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

The couple currently cares for four women in their home.

“From what I witnessed working in assisted living, they’re (Alzheimer’s and dementia patients) the ones that had to go to a nursing home for no reason other than confusion,” Lynn said. “They’re the ones that just needed to be in a family setting and to feel important and useful.”

The connection is personal, too. Gary’s mother is currently battling final-stage Alzheimer’s. His mother lived with the couple for six weeks before moving closer to Gary’s dad.

“It was very hard, probably one of the hardest six weeks for me, even though that’s the people we take in, but to see my own mom was really hard,” he said.

So in 2005, the Brachs became licensed and started taking in clients, but it wasn’t long before some changes, including a new home, were needed.

The couple had been caring for a woman who slowly started losing her mobility and was about to need a wheelchair.

“How can we accommodate her wheelchair?” Lynn said. “We couldn’t give her up, so I guess she was one of the reasons we built for wheelchair accessibility.”

The Brachs built a new five-bedroom home in south Moorhead, making the entire first floor wheelchair accessible.

Around the same time, Gary left his job with Northwest Airlines after 18 years.

“We decided to build this (house) just based on this business, so it’s kind of neat how everything panned out,” Gary said. “I was ready to leave Northwest, ready to do something new.”

‘We’re their last years’

The couple said their adult foster care work is fulfilling. But unlike other forms of that care, working with the elderly requires more attention and care.

“The biggest chore for anyone once they can’t drive anymore is loneliness,” Gary said. “So many of their friends and spouses are gone.”

Lynn said the biggest difference between family care and other types of care – like nursing homes – is the feeling of accomplishment clients acquire in a home setting.

“To get them to do crafts … is like pulling teeth,” she said. “But to get them to peel potatoes, to shuck corn – gladly, and then they feel they’re doing something and they’re being utilized. They’re contributing, and they’re happy then.”

For Gary and Lynn, the hardest part about caring for their clients is the inevitability of letting them go.

“Once someone passes away, I wake up at night for weeks, and it’s just like if you were to lose your mom that you had been taking care of,” Lynn said. “Maybe it will become easier, maybe it won’t, but we’re their last years here.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Josie Clarey at (701) 241-5529