- Written by Janis Merrell
- Published: 18 July 2019
On July 22, 1974 LifePath, known then as Franklin County Home Care Corporation, was incorporated. There were six employees: Executive Director, Community Coordinator, Fiscal Manager, Intake Supervisor, Case Worker, and Secretary. These six employees began to serve the 26 towns of Franklin County and the four Worcester County towns of Athol, Petersham, Phillipston and Royalston. With the guidance and support of the Franklin County Commissioners, the agency was off and running, assisting seniors 60 and over with homemaking, social services, legal services, nursing services, hot meals, nutrition, medical services, or any service that prolonged their life and well being. On October 1, 1975, LifePath was the first Home Care Corporation to be designated as an Area Agency on Aging.
Area planning, providing in-home services, administering the meals program and working with local Councils on Aging continued throughout the 1980s. During that decade, the Adult Family Care program was added; Information and Referral services began, as well as Protective Services and the Nursing Home Ombudsman program.
Many people who were instrumental in the early development of the agency still live and work in the Franklin County and North Quabbin area, and have strong memories of the work that went into creating the institution that is so critical to our area today.
Core to our success has been the outstanding skill and dedication of staff, volunteers, board members, community partners and the generosity of so many, who have enabled LifePath to thrive and carry out our mission.
“I was the executive director at Franklin County Home Care from 1980 to 1986,” said Al Norman, “The agency was located on Central Street in Turners Falls. Winslow Wentworth was the board president. Our core programs were home care and nutrition. We published The Good Life newspaper. I took an active interest in the state wide networks of home care corporations to lobby for more state funding, and I left to work with that group, Mass Home Care, in 1986, and was Executive Director there for the next 32 years.”
Norman adds, “I used to tell people that I was in the ‘freedom business’—giving elders the freedom to choose another setting than a nursing facility for long-term care. The work of LifePath has allowed seniors to live independently, at their highest level of functioning. This is a fundamental civil right. In most cases, it’s also a cheaper alternative to an institution. The last 20 years of home care in Massachusetts has been about rebalancing the resources away from institutions, and towards alternatives in the community, which is what elders have always wanted.”
The 1990s were a time of continued growth, where supportive services were added to select housing complexes and the agency amended its Articles of Organization to expand its focus and services to younger persons with disabilities through the Personal Care Assistance program. The Olmstead decision of the US Supreme Court in 1999, with emphasis on “care in the least restrictive setting,” was a landmark act which identified the civil right of the individual to receive parity of services within the community. This resulted in a major shift and multiple policy initiatives focusing on consumer-directed and person-centered care. Capacity and funding was redirected to serve individuals who would otherwise be in nursing facilities to expansion of home and community based programs.
According to Elizabeth Foster, a retired LifePath employee and current LifePath Board Member who began her 27 year career at LifePath in 1990, “In 1990 our offices were in a two story, four-room former school house on Central Street in Turners Falls. We had two satellite offices in Orange and Shelburne and employed about 48 people. My ‘office’ was in an 8 x 8 cubicle in the accounting room along with seven other people. In June 1991 we moved to the Farren Care Center Building, also in Turners Falls, with approximately 52 employees. The office in Shelburne was closed. A few years later, budget considerations forced the closing of the Orange office and all employees other than the Nutrition Department were consolidated into the main office.”
Foster adds, “I was also a consumer of LifePath's. My mother, who passed in 2018 at age 95, was a client of LifePath, so my experience is both professional and personal. She was able to spend the last years of her life in the apartment she loved and had lived in for over 30 years thanks to the services LifePath provided.”
Recognizing that health insurance was another key issue, LifePath began to operate the SHINE program in the late nineties to help navigate Medicare and supplemental insurance benefits.
The new millennium brought awareness of the need to establish programs to assist grandparents raising grandchildren and support caregivers of persons with dementia including dementia coaching and the Savvy Caregiver program. The growing population in need of in home services led LifePath down the path of grant funding and pursuing the generous support of donors and business sponsors to fill gaps in care. Free Healthy Living classes with topics such as better balance and managing chronic disease, increased elder mental health services, benefits counseling, and LGBTIQA support via the Rainbow Elders are just a few of the newer initiatives.
Roseann Martoccia, MPA, former Executive Director of LifePath and current Executive Director of LifePath’s sister agency in Holyoke, WestMass ElderCare, states, “I was so lucky to be a part of LifePath for over 20 years. Growth, change and a dedicated staff were the constants. LifePath is a strong part of the Franklin County/North Quabbin community, serving consumers and caregivers and collaborating with many partners. Congratulations and here's to the next 45 years.”
Now LifePath has over 40 programs and service delivery models and is able to offer long term care services across the income and age spectrum. LifePath has also expanded its geographic reach, with some of our programs extending beyond Franklin County and the North Quabbin area into Worcester, Berkshire, Hampshire and Hampden counties.
According to Barbara Bodzin, LifePath’s current Executive Director, “Throughout the changing landscape of the past 45 years, LifePath has stayed true to its mission to provide options for independence and enhance the quality of life of those we serve through person centered care and support of caregivers. Core to our success has been the outstanding skill and dedication of staff, volunteers, board members, community partners and the generosity of so many, who have enabled LifePath to thrive and carry out our mission.”
Today LifePath employs 134 people and is lucky to have the help of over 265 volunteers. We serve seniors, people with disabilities, and caregivers. Evelyn Walsh, President of LifePath’s Board of Directors, states “LifePath is important to so many seniors and people with disabilities, especially those who do not have anyone to advocate for them. Without the help of the programs at LifePath, the quality of life for many would not be as good.”
We are excited to celebrate this 45 year milestone with our community and look forward to finding new and innovative ways to best meet the needs of those we serve. Contact us, let us know how we can be of support, or honor this milestone with a donation of time or money. Please call us at 413-773-5555 or 978-544-2259, or send us email.