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Retired teacher helps seniors find right place to live during sunset years

Looking for the right place to live when you need a little help getting through the day is a daunting task.

Should you look at independent living or assisted living?

Should you stay in your own home or apartment with some hired help for special services?

It’s a confusing assortment of options.

There are at least 13 independent-living communities in Lincoln, 17 assisted-living communities, and 14 memory-assistance communities. And those don’t count four new communities being planned or under construction.

Plus, there are nursing homes and resident houses that offer skilled nursing home-type care in a home-like setting.

Barry and Irene Moore turned to a former teacher they knew, Mary Ann Stallings, who has her own business helping people navigate senior communities. 

The Moores started to realize it was getting much harder to make things work in their own home.

Barry has Parkinson’s disease. Irene has back problems and an irregular heartbeat. The washer and dryer were downstairs. Just getting around the house was becoming more difficult. 

The retired teachers had lived in the same house for more than 40 years, raised their children there, so it was hard to make that change. “But it came to the point where we had to do it,” Irene said.

In mid-November, the Moores moved to a one bedroom-plus-den apartment at Eastmont Towers, an independent-living arrangement, where they eat one meal a day with friends in the dining hall, their apartment is cleaned once every two weeks, and they have access to numerous services and social activities.

They use Eastmont’s two libraries. They go to exercise classes, use the physical therapist, attend vespers on Sunday afternoons and chapel on Thursdays.

The couple haven’t given up their car, but they don’t do a lot of driving. So the van service to HyVee and the doctor’s office is a plus.

In fact, they've been so active their kids sometimes call and find no one at home and wonder what's going on, Irene said.

The Moores sorted through their options with the help of Stallings, whose company, Bridge to Better Living, is one of a handful of firms that help Lincoln families find a suitable senior-living option for themselves or family members.

The Moores used a spreadsheet, created by Bridge to Better Living just for them, to sort through the options that best suited their situation.

They visited four independent-living communities and settled on Eastmont, 6315 O St., because of the array of health-related services, Irene said.

They love the friendliness, the good food, the exercise program. And it's nice not having to do all the cleaning, she said. 

Stallings knew a little about senior living from her own work with older relatives. Over a 10-year period, she and her husband, Bob, had helped five older relatives and a friend find places to live.

Stallings encouraged her mother to move off the family farm after 65 years. “My brother and I just spent a ton of time trying to find the right place for her," she said.

“We spent a lot of time on the phone and going to places we wouldn’t have needed to go.”

Stallings' mother was among the first 30 people to move into Savannah Pines, 3900 Pine Lake Rd., an independent-living community where she lived for 10 years, before moving to a memory-care community.

Stallings' mom came from Venango, a tiny town in western Nebraska where you can see forever. So moving in initially with just 30 people was beneficial, she said.

Helping folks find the best senior-living community for their needs was a natural fit when Stallings began looking for something to do after retiring from teaching.

She took a Southeast Community College class on writing a business plan, put together her plan and got a Small Business Administration loan. She dreamed up a name that did not have "senior" in it — Bridge to Better Living — which came to her while driving past a bridge in south Lincoln.

For clients the service is free. Stallings is paid through contracts with senior communities in and around Lincoln.

And she looks for the right fit, in services, in cost, in personality.

Cheryl Piontek used Stallings' services when she was looking for a place where her father, a retired firefighter who had dementia, could enjoy his life and live safely.

He loved piano music, he loved people, and he needed a little supervision.

Stallings had a spreadsheet that showed how much facilities cost, what was provided and where in Lincoln each was located, Piontek said.

Piontek wanted her father near her home in north Lincoln, she said.

And her dad needed a secure place, where he couldn’t just walk out the door. Though he did once. He walked out the front door with some other people, hitchhiked, got a ride from a priest and ended up in Crete.

Piontek toured three places with Stallings and picked GracePointe Assisted Living and Memory Care Suites, 4620 Randolph St., where her dad had his own apartment with a bathroom, three meals a day, some activities and an outdoor patio.

Her father, Jerry Tomasek, lived at GracePointe and later at CountryHouse Residence, where he loved going on trips into the community, until his death two years ago.

“I had no idea what it cost to live in one of these places. I didn’t know what they provided.” But Stallings had the knowledge, she said. “We were able to look down the spreadsheet and see what each facility provided. It was very comforting.”

Most often — about 80 percent of the time — it is children who call Bridge to Better Living, Stallings said.

“The children will come for the holidays and find out that Mom and Dad have slipped and they need to start looking for options,” she said.

Stallings helps adult children encourage parents to consider senior communities. A lot of older people think of a retirement community as looking like a nursing home. 

But senior communities come in many shapes. And it is “communities.” It’s not the "f" word — not facilities, Stallings said.

Some communities look like an apartment building with a communal dining room. Others are like a quiet home with separate bedrooms.

Others are like a cruise ship with a beauty shop, small and large dining areas, exercise rooms, a chapel, libraries, even a bank.

Independent-living communities are much like living at home, but you don’t have to worry about scooping snow, paying the electric bill or vacuuming. Often you get some of your meals and can get a ride to the doctor’s office. 

Some independent-living communities are rental units. A few you buy. Some have an entrance fee, large enough that it feels like you're buying the unit.

There are assisted-living communities with varying services and ways of billing for those services.

Some may escort you to dinner. Others will not. Some may offer help you get out of bed. Others may not.

There are communities that offer both independent and assisted-living arrangements.

“It is very, very confusing if you try to do it on your own,” said Stallings, who has helped more than 1,000 people sort through their options in the past eight years. 

Her husband told her she was crazy to start a business when she retired from teaching. "But this has been the frosting on the cake for my career," she said.


Life-in-the-red
topical
Husker fans now wait along with team for postseason fate

NEW YORK — So now what after the Nebraska men's basketball team lost to Michigan 77-58 in the Big Ten Tournament on Friday?

NU fans hoping for a week of anticipation to see where their team would end up in the NCAA Tournament now have to wait with a different kind of anticipation to see if the Huskers even make the 68-team field.

That's life on the bubble, where Nebraska (22-10) and its fans have lived the last couple months. 

In 2014, there was a party at Pinnacle Bank Arena as Nebraska knew it was going to the Big Dance.

Don't expect that this time around.

"I have a to-don't list," Nebraska coach Tim Miles said Friday of his plan for the week leading up to March 11, when the NCAA field is announced. "To don't: look at Twitter. To don't: look at the brackets. To don't: look at the seed list. I'll stay away from my phone. So if you text me, I'm probably not getting back to you. Sorry."

It's easy to drive yourself crazy thinking of scenarios. Many have already shoveled dirt on NU's NCAA hopes in bracing themselves for a spot in the NIT, which, of course, plays its semifinals and finals in Madison Square Garden.

An NIT bid likely means a high seed for Nebraska, which means at least one or two more home games. Husker fans, to say nothing of players and coaches, would much rather travel.

"I don’t think that there’s 68 teams in the country that are better than us, that deserve to be in over us. But it’s out of our control," NU senior guard Evan Taylor said. "It’s difficult. But, hopefully, we can get in somehow."


Federal-politics
featured
Questions surround Nebraska company awarded Trump's first wall contract

OMAHA — A tiny Nebraska startup awarded the first border wall construction project under President Donald Trump is the offshoot of a construction firm that was sued repeatedly for failing to pay subcontractors and accused in a 2016 government audit of shady billing practices.

SWF Constructors, which lists just one employee in its Omaha office, won the $11 million federal contract in November as part of a project to replace a little more than two miles of a current fence with post-style barriers 30 feet high in Calexico, California. The project represents a sliver of the president's plan that was central to his campaign promise for a wall at the border with Mexico.

It remains unclear why SWF was listed on the bid for the wall contract instead of Edgewood, New York-based Coastal Environmental Group, which online government documents list as its owner.

Thomas Anderson, an Omaha lawyer who initially represented a subcontractor that sued Coastal in 2011, said he wouldn't be surprised if it was an attempt to dodge scrutiny of past legal problems. He says such a practice is relatively common in construction projects.

"If you kick up a little dust on the trail, it makes the trail harder to follow," Anderson said.

Richard Silva, who is listed in government documents as the primary contact for both SWF and Coastal, did not return numerous phone and email messages left by The Associated Press seeking comment. Messages left with a general voicemail box for Coastal also were not returned.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Fort Worth, Texas, bid the Calexico wall project, according to federal records. The agency told The Associated Press that by Thursday afternoon it would provide information on the process used to vet SWF. It didn't immediately return a follow-up call Friday seeking that information.

In 2011, the federal government sued Coastal on behalf of Anderson's client as part of a multimillion-dollar lead cleanup project at an EPA Superfund site in northeast Omaha. The lawsuit accused Coastal of failing to pay the subcontractor, Enviroworks Inc., nearly $400,000 in labor and equipment costs and of reneging on a profit-sharing agreement that cheated the subcontractor out of about $1.7 million.

Government lawyers said Coastal's refusal to pay forced the subcontractor to lay off most of its employees. Immediately after employees were notified of the layoffs, the lawsuit alleged, "Coastal hired and used the Enviroworks employees as its own and continued to perform the work that Enviroworks was entitled to do," the lawsuit alleged.

The lawsuit was settled in 2015 for an undisclosed amount.

In 2014, Coastal was again sued by the federal government for failing to pay another subcontractor, SF Marina Systems of Gloucester, Virginia, more than $175,000 for construction of concrete docks at the U.S. Coast Guard facility at Fire Island, New York.

The government said that after repeated requests for payment, Coastal sent SF Marina a photocopy of a check for payment in full, along with a "release and waiver of lien" that Coastal said had to be signed before the check could be sent. But when SF Marina returned the signed release, Coastal still refused to pay and attempted to rely on the signed release to claim SF Marina could not collect on the debt. The lawsuit was settled in 2015, also for an undisclosed amount.

A year later, an audit by the U.S. Interior Department found $2 million in questionable spending that should have flagged it as a problem company, but did not.

That audit looked at billing by Coastal Environmental for work to clean up two wildlife refuges in the wake of Superstorm Sandy. The report found that Coastal billed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for labor and material, subcontractors, lodging and meals and miscellaneous items without providing supporting documents such as timesheets, invoices and receipts.

Nancy DiPaolo, with the Interior Department's Office of the Inspector General, said the department negotiated the repayment of the audit's findings to $200,000, and Coastal was given five years to pay it back.

The audit's findings required the Interior Department to file a "past performance report" on Coastal that would have flagged it to other government departments, DiPaolo said. But that report was never filed, she said, for reasons she didn't know.

"It was probably an oversight," she said.

Coastal's new Omaha company, SWF, is not registered with either the Nebraska Secretary of State's office or the Nebraska Department of Labor, which is required for any company doing business within the state. Labor department officials are investigating whether SWF violated state registration requirements.