Janette Johnson (left) and Jan Fast discuss the agenda for the July 11 Elders and Other meeting.
Photo by JP Crumrine

“I want to die on the hill. I’ve said it. I’m 81 years old. My friends have said it. We are Idy elders,” wrote Virginia Crowder in a letter to the editor in the May 2 edition of the Town Crier.

That was the beginning of a new group serving another cohort of Idyllwild residents. The “Elders and Others” are not focused on an event, such as a disaster or festival, or talent such as artists of all genres.

Mary Morse, who agreed to lead the group said, “We had talked about this before. Several things worked together and it evolved.”

She mentioned that Rev. Patricia Horkey, curate at St. Hugh of Lincoln Episcopal Church in Idyllwild, had started a precious elders ministry. This was an outgrowth of knowing that several Idyllwild seniors, who were living alone, died and were not found for a day or more.

Crowder’s letter not only planted a seed, but it was the invitation for many to seek answers to her question, “Many of us live alone. What will it take to enable us to ‘age in place’ with our friends in this very special community of caring and resourceful people?”

Now 30 to 40 individuals, who qualify as elders, come to the Idyllwild Library biweekly to share what they learned about the questions they all have and which answers are practical. 

For example, last week, Jan Fast and Janette Johnson invited Idyllwild Fire Chief Mark LaMont and Mountain Disaster Preparedness President Mike Feyder to join the meeting and discuss their organization’s roles during evacuations.

“This topic is important to elders and homebound residents,” Morse emphasized. “During the evacuation, many seniors without cars didn’t know how to get off the hill. And some disabled individuals had no clue of evacuation because they’re not on social media!”

“Do you keep a list regarding people who will need help to evacuate?” Fast asked to begin the discussion. 

“Yes,” replied LaMont and told them how to get a name and address on the list. He instructed the group to call the fire station and Administrative Assistant Rachel Teeguarden will assist.

The information needs to be kept current. If one’s address, phone number or email changes, LaMont urged the group to notify the department. “We’ll call annually to verify,” he added.

In addition, they are aware of individuals with mobility limitations, such as oxygen. He said the department is aware of most of the individuals who need assistance because the department often provides help or services to them.

While this meeting went into more detail about the evacuation process and disaster preparation, the Elders have been addressing other issues since they first met in May. During that initial meeting, they formed smaller groups to research and come back with information and answers to many questions.

One of the first questions was the availability of hospice care on the hill, according to Fast and Johnson. They investigated hospice providers in Hemet and the desert. They found one group. The Visiting Nurses Association (VNA) was already serving one or two individuals here in Idyllwild, and was willing to expand. Fast and Johnson made their inquiries and shared with the group.

Further, they learned the VNA may be able to provide in-home health care. As Johnson stressed, this is different from hospice care, which is for individuals whose doctors believe they have six months or less to live and who prefer to spend that time in the comfort of their own home or space.

Home health care may be needed for many reasons, such as recent surgery or an injury. 

Johnson wrote, “If there are a few licensed registered nurses living in Idyllwild who would work per diem, then postsurgical patients and the chronically ill could remain in their own homes.”

VNA home health could provide physical or occupational therapy, wound care, injections and more.

During this search, Fast and Johnson learned of Cyndy Zaech and her husband, Ron. They are Idyllwild residents, but operate two assisted living homes in the desert. Fast and Johnson prevailed upon Zaech to join the Elders and explore the possibility of one in Idyllwild.

Unfortunately, Zaech believes Idyllwild is too small to support an assisted living facility of even six residents. “People here don’t rush into assisted living. It’s a difficult decision and the population here is not big enough,” Zaech said.

However, she is exploring other options, which may germinate. Until then, “There is really nothing here [assisted living] if people want to stay,” she said sadly and empathically.

Johnson, an elder, moved to Idyllwild from Santa Monica in December. “As a senior, I also realized as I moved here that there is one doctor and not much medical help. I’m concerned about that,” she admitted.

This is an important and critical question for this population group living on the hill. No one moves off the hill to be closer to a fire station. They move to be closer to health care.

While the Elders and others cannot solve this problem immediately, they are finding some answers and measures which reduce those concerns. The group’s next meeting is 1 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 1, at the Idyllwild Library located at 54401 Village Center Dr.