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Restoring lives and dignity

Dedicated to serving and supporting older adults in need are Christi Bird (center) and Louise Marsh, coordinator of the Guardianship Diversion Program.

Senior Citizens Council of Clackamas County

Providence Health & Services-Oregon provided $16,320 in community benefits in 2010 to support the agency's Guardianship Diversion Program.

Learn more about Senior Citizens Council of Clackamas County »

Disabled by post-polio syndrome, a 67-year-old woman suffered with a deep bedsore while the son supposedly caring for her was out cooking meth.

A World War II veteran was sent to fend for himself after a relative in charge of his finances maxed out his credit cards, drained most of his savings and let his home fall into foreclosure.

"It just amazes me," reflects Christi Bird, executive director of Senior Citizens Council of Clackamas County. "I say frequently, my grandmother would roll over in her grave if any of us in our family ever did to her what we see going on every day."

Aided by a grant from Providence, the nonprofit council's Guardianship Diversion Program helps hundreds of older adults each year - including the bedridden mother and the veteran - to salvage their living conditions and their lives.

Three out of four clients are victims of abuse or financial exploitation, usually at the hands of family members. Others simply have lost the capacity to care for themselves.

"It's really important that somebody be available to speak for these seniors who are so vulnerable, and being taken advantage of," Christi says.

The Guardianship Diversion Program staff serve as compassionate advocates who can arrange for and monitor older adults' care. They can assist with paying bills, such as rent and utilities, and with managing money. They can help seniors to find safe housing and to sign up for entitlement programs. They also can advise concerned family members about community resources.

"I think the most important thing with this program," Christi says, "is that we can help people remain as independent as is possible, giving them a quality of life - and dignity."