For the first time, September is being celebrated as National PACE (Programs of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly) Month. The observance recognizes the work of PACE, which coordinates and provides all needed medical care for its patients, including preventive, primary, acute and long-term care services. The program helps older adults continue living at home in their community.

Palmetto SeniorCare PACE, sponsored by Palmetto Health, serves 300 seniors in four locations: downtown Columbia, Shandon, Lexington and White Rock. The program has served the community for 29 years. Nationally, there are 239 PACE programs serving more than 40,000 PACE enrollees in 31 states.

“We became committed to developing a PACE program once we learned that it created the best opportunity for our staff to deliver the highest quality of life to the seniors we serve,” said Suzanne Tillman, director of Palmetto SeniorCare PACE.

The PACE model of care is centered on the belief that it is better for the well-being of seniors with chronic care needs and their families to be served in the community whenever possible. The fully integrated, provider-based model of care revolves around an interdisciplinary team of doctors, nurses, therapists, social workers, dietitians, drivers and others who provide direct care and services to meet the individual needs of program participants.

The theme of the first National PACE Month is “Driving Independence,” celebrating the role of PACE drivers in promoting independence for seniors. Rodney Adgerson is one of the drivers we are celebrating. Adgerson has been a driver for Palmetto SeniorCare PACE for 19 years. He drives participating seniors back and forth between their homes and Palmetto SeniorCare PACE Shandon.

“Everything begins and ends with us,” said Adgerson. “We’re the first person they see in the morning when we pick them up, and we’re the last person they see when we take them home in the afternoon. It’s important that both the participants and their caregivers trust us.”

One of the participants who holds a special place in Adgerson’s heart is Maggie Pitts. Pitts, who turned an astonishing 98 years old this year, has a long history with Palmetto SeniorCare PACE. Her husband, Hurley Pitts, now deceased, was the first participant in the program’s Shandon location; and her son, Robert, became a participant 17 years ago and is still in the program.

Adgerson added, “I met Ms. Pitts about 17 years ago. At that time, she was the caregiver for her son, who was in the program. She saw how I was treating him and how I had concern for him as I drove him back and forth. We grew close over the years and she began to think of me as another son.”

Pitts concurred, “He helps me out every day. And he’s not just a driver, he’s a son.”

“Only in a fully integrated model of care like PACE could transportation play such an important role in keeping seniors with long-term needs living safely in the community,” said Shawn Bloom, president and CEO of the National PACE Association (NPA). “PACE drivers don’t just offer curb-to-curb transportation. They enter the enrollee’s home to help them to the van and are trained to look for changes in the home environment or in the level of assistance an enrollee needs. By identifying changes quickly, the PACE program can plan treatments and interventions immediately before larger issues surface.”

“There’s a lot more to being a driver than just driving,” added Adgerson. “We take them to doctor’s appointments, we serve lunch, we do activities with them during the day and we take them on field trips.”

Formerly, Maggie Pitts was a cook at Cornell Arms on Pendleton Street where she specialized in baking. She also was a housekeeper, and many of the people she once worked for visit her on special occasions.

Adgerson, who affectionately refers to Pitts as “Mama” (she in turn calls him “Baby”), said, “Before she even came into the program she took me into the family. Every year the family celebrates her birthday with a dinner or a cookout somewhere, and I’m always invited.”

“Every senior enrolled in PACE meets the requirements for nursing home care, yet 95 percent of PACE enrollees live in the community,” said Bloom. “PACE is an innovative model that continues to adapt and change as public policy, technology, and even the seniors who we serve change. PACE is successful because it is based on building relationships between enrollees and members of the PACE interdisciplinary team.”

Thanks to the care she receives during the day at Palmetto SeniorCare PACE, Pitts still is able to live in her own home and be a part of her community.

“She’s a happy lady,” said Adgerson. “I pick her up every morning at 6:30 am, and she’s always ready.”

For more information about PACE, visit PalmettoHealth.org or call 803-931-8175.