Jayson Jacoby
The Baker City Herald



At the age of 90, Waunetta Larson doesn't move like she did when she was providing health-care services as a nurse instead of receiving them as a patient.

She has a bad knee that requires her to use a wheelchair to travel around the east Baker City home she shares with her niece, Charlotte Sumano. The women moved from California last year to join Sumano's son and his family in Baker City after Sumano retired from a teaching career at Palm Desert.

And while Waunetta isn't sure how much more time she'll have on this Earth, there are things she's certain about. Her support for the Democratic Party for one, along with her penchant for really crunchy peanut butter, and her appreciation for the home health services provided through Ideal Partners.

Caregivers from the home health business, whose motto is "Your Home, Our Help," visit Larson six days a week to provide her with companionship, to perform light housekeeping chores and to help her bathe.

As a veteran of World War II, Larson receives the services at no charge through the Veterans Administration.

She served her country after joining the WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) in 1943 at Boise.

At a time when opportunities for young women were limited, Larson said she was eager to enter the military.

"I could have married some old farmer and done what my mother did for 50 years, but I didn't want to do that," Larson said.

Despite her mother's misgivings about her plans, she caught the train and headed out to live "that life of iniquity," she says - a life that didn't include marriage at all.

"My mother would say, 'who in the world would marry you?' - and she was right," she adds with a laugh and her characteristic grin.

Larson began her training at Hunter College in New York City where she learned "how to march and follow orders." From there she went to the Corona Naval Hospital in California and then to Treasure Island where she served for the duration of the war.

After leaving the Navy, she attended college to study nursing before being called back to military duty.

The Navy had planned a big publicity campaign with her as the star telling the story of how she turned her stint as a nurses aid in the military into a career as a registered nurse, but Larson said she wanted no part of that. She served another couple of years and then left the Navy for good to pursue a nursing career as a civilian.

These days she's enjoying the care provided for her in her home and looking forward to pruning her cherry tree and maybe planting a garden full of cantaloupe and some berry bushes this spring.

She fondly recalls the fun of distributing surplus berries and almonds to her California neighbors.

And she credits in-home care services for allowing her to look forward to that little slice of independence she enjoys.

Cinimon Derowitsch, a certified nursing assistant, spends three days a week helping Larson bathe. She also applies skin-soothing creams to her feet and legs and helps her get dressed.

"She's a joy to have around," Larson says of Derowitsch.

The other three days, light housekeeping services are provided by Sarah Sanford.

"She cleans and does laundry and tries to tidy up my house, but she has to deal with me and I'm not very tidy," Larson said. "She comes and she's so sunshiney."

In addition to brightening her day, the caregivers take a lot of work and responsibility off her niece's shoulders, Larson says.

"It makes it possible for me to stay in my home," she said. "I'm very grateful to have it and I'm very grateful to them for meeting with the vets (to arrange payment of the services)."

Linda Hudson, a registered nurse and co-owner of Ideal Partners, oversees the caregivers who work for her and her business partner, Marilyn Spicer, who handles the administrative end of things. The two believe there are many people in the community who could benefit from in-home care to help improve their standard of living as well as to ensure their safety.

The service is especially valuable for out-of-town family members who can rely on caregivers to give them a better picture of their loved ones' well-being.

"We're the eyes and ears for a lot of families, it gives them the insight," Hudson said.

For those suffering varying levels of dementia, isolation is not at all unusual.

"Having people to talk to provides stimulus and reality orientation that just isn't there when it's quiet," Hudson said.

The cost for services, which are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, ranges from $17.50 per hour to $25 per hour.

In addition to private billing, the agency contracts through the state Department of Human Services Seniors and People with Disabilities as well as Veterans Services, to provide the services free of charge to those who qualify. Some long-term care insurance policies also cover the costs, Spicer said. The Ideal Partners office is at 2034 Auburn Ave.

Similar services also are offered in the community through Guardian Home Care at 1515 Campbell St. and Care At Home in the Baker Tower, 1705 Main St. Those agencies also offer skilled nursing services as well as physical, speech and occupational therapy and social worker service. Services ordered by a doctor are covered by Medicare, according to Jen Ebell, Care At Home office manager.