By Greg Gerber
Editor, RV Daily Report
A unique way in which the Escapees club takes care of its members can be found in the sponsored assisted living program at the Livingston, Texas, headquarters. A separate corporation from the club, it’s mission is to provide care for members who are retired from RVing or who need to recuperate after surgery or an illness.
CARE Executive Director Russ Johnson said the program is the brain child of Kay Peterson, who worked as a registered nurse at a nursing home in 1962 before founding Escapees. She learned that patients paid a non-refundable entrance fee that often obliterated years of savings. In addition, they paid a monthly fee according to what their income was.
Peterson promised herself that, someday, she would start a similar facility where people would not have to pay ANY entrance fee, so if they didn’t like it, or a better solution became available, they could leave without losing their life savings.
Started in 1992, the CARE service is very affordable. It is priced at $874 per month for a single person and $1,311 for a couple, but there are no contracts and certainly no admission fees. The only requirements are that they have an RV, be members of Escapees, have the ability to arrive to daily meals with or without a caregiver, and pay one month rent in advance.
Residents live in their own RVs on one of 35 well-maintained campsites featuring full hookups and a shed. Their tanks are emptied weekly, and the propane is changed when needed. They get three meals a day plus snacks, and even receive assistance in light housekeeping with several loads of laundry washed and folded.
Three times a month, the entire group travels to a movie, play and restaurants. There are also on-site activities like music jam sessions, card games, bingo or vespers.
The center includes a large multipurpose room with a loaner library, fitness center allowing home health providers to guide residents through exercise routines after surgery and a place where stylists donate their time to keep the residents looking good.
Zelda’s Garden, located next to the center, is 2,400-square-feet of flowers, plants, trees, and fountains. It offers a nice outdoor setting for day care patients and others to stop to smell the roses, said Johnson.
CARE tries to provide most resident needs, including an onsite cottage called Pearl’s Place, so families, visiting residents have a place to stay. With two bedrooms, it enables a caregiver to hire a live-in home health aide to care for a loved one when the caregiver needs to leave for an extended trip.
“Our goal is to keep residents socially active, yet safe, in a rally-type atmosphere,” said Johnson, who came onboard as director 18 months ago. “We want to unburden our senior Escapees so they can enjoy their golden years.”
Volunteers drive residents to appointments and shopping centers, without charge to locations in Livingston. Trips to the airport or appointments in Houston cost 35 cents per mile, half what IRS allows and less than the cost for a local shuttle or taxi.
A team of volunteers help a handful of paid staff members in caring for the residents. An onsite nurse oversees adult day care needs and offers limited assistance to residents, while the volunteers tend to residents during a one-month commitment in exchange for a free campsite and meals. There are seven full hookup sites set aside for volunteers.
“Many people think that this type of service is for really old Escapees,” said Johnson. “In reality, anyone can take advantage of the CARE Program. Where else could a 40-year-old full-time RVer go to recover from a broken driving leg or knee replacement, or stay while receiving cancer treatments?”
“As far as I know, this is the only facility of its kind in the nation catering to RVers who want to retire with assistance and even an adult day care option,” said Johnson.
Adult day care service
An adult day care service is offered Monday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. The program is regulated by the Texas Department of Aging and Disability, and complies with all types of regulations regarding safety, activities and nutrition.
It is open to local residents and is the only adult day care center in Polk County. Clients receive assistance with bathing, grooming and medicine. They are served three meals during that time and the facility is locked down to prevent dementia patients from wondering away.
“It is a wonderful opportunity to provide a brief respite for caregivers who need time off upon occasion or they risk burning out,” Johnson explained. “Caregivers can relax knowing their loved ones are in a safe, secure place.”
To keep the center financially viable, Escapees donate money generated from fundraisers, auctions, yard sales and monthly contributions from their banks or credit cards. Escapees realize the value of CARE and are paying it forward to help themselves or fellow SKPs, said Johnson, who added that he appreciates how many of them volunteer for several months to keep CARE’s labor costs low.
“We could not provide this extraordinarily valuable service without the generosity of Escapee members and the local community,” he said. “We would welcome the support of RV dealers, campgrounds, manufacturers and suppliers.”
With more money, Johnson said the CARE service could be expanded to other RV parks. In fact, several private parks have already approached him to learn what would be needed to provide that level of service.
“Kay’s vision is our mission — to help Escapees in need and to help the community with our adult day care service,” he explained.
For more information about the CARE program, visit www.escapeescare.org.
To watch a video about the Escapee CARE program, click here.