Massillon home health agency works to improve lives

Westark Family Services, which provides home care to nearly 200 people in Stark and part of Wayne counties, is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

MASSILLON When Eloise Robinson had surgery on both knees and later a hip replacement, she needed a little extra help with daily household tasks.

The 86-year-old resident has lived in the same northwest Massillon apartment complex for more than 20 years. A woman in an apartment below hers used a home care service that helped her with getting around, making food and doing light housekeeping.

That’s when Robinson became a client of Westark Family Services, receiving care since July 2007. On Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays an aide helps Robinson by making soups for her to reheat on days she doesn’t have service, does her grocery shopping and cleans.

“If I didn’t have an aide, I’d be in a nursing home because I can’t do stuff like I used to,” Robinson said.

Established in 1943, Westark Family Services celebrates 75 years. Though the services available have changed over the past decades, the agency continues to dedicate its resources to improving the lives of others.

Filling a need

It began as a response to the changing times during World War II. The program was then known as Family Service Society and Children’s Bureau and helped feed and house children who had one or both parents involved in the war efforts, according to a history report provided by the agency.

“Patriotism was the force behind this community endeavor and homes were opened up for the care of children affected by the absence of one or more parents,” the report said.

Since then, the non-profit agency has provided counseling, adoption, educational and support services and home health care.

Today, Westark Family Services provides home health care to nearly 200 people in Stark County and portions of Wayne County, Executive Director Cheryl Hill said. It employs 36 aides to do a variety of daily tasks for clients including hair and skin care, light cleaning, shopping and meal preparation.

“Our goal is to keep them in a clean, safe environment for as long as possible as opposed to going to a long-term care facility,” Hill said. “Everybody is happier at home, and it’s much more cost effective.”

Home health care began in 1983 through its homemaker program. The facility previously aided in the adoption process, which was discontinued in the late 1990s.

Hill has been a part of Westark Family Services for more than 20 years. Over the course of those years, Hill has seen the need for home care grow.

The agency cannot take any more clients without hiring more aides. When Hill began working with the facility, Westark employed seven aides. Since then, the number has multiplied five times.

“We don’t have the staffing available to take more clients right now, but the need is out there,” she said. “I’ve seen the need really expand and grow through the years.”

Providing comfort

Sandra Shilling, 71, has been a Westark client since May 2015. Shilling said she had a few surgeries that made it difficult to get around. She connected with Westark on a neighbor’s recommendation.

An aide visits Shilling five times a week. Though Shilling has had different aides since 2015, she said each has been pleasant and accommodating.

When Shilling had a surgery or was injured, she was able to increase the hours per week she gets service.

Living in a senior community, Shilling has seen many of her neighbors move into nursing homes after surgeries and injuries because they weren’t able to cope on their own.

“I can’t complain,” Shilling said. “It kept me from going into the nursing home.”

In the last three years, Shilling said she has received excellent care. Westark has a personal touch that other agencies don’t have, she said.

Justine McConkey, 61, of Massillon, has worked at Westark for 19 years. During her time as an aide, she has cared for and lost clients, many who became like family.

McConkey started her career at Westark after working in a nursing home for three years. One of her former coworkers recommended she give Westark Family Services a try.

Since accepting a position, she’s never looked back.

“I love my job,” she said. “I love my people. My clientele, they’re just perfect. I love all of them.

One of McConkey’s clients, Joannee Sopp, 83, of Massillon, receives service three times a day for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Sopp said she doesn’t get much company and enjoys the visits.

“They’re like my family,” she said. “I’m not just saying that. They’re exceptional company.”

Reach Samantha at 330-775-1133 or samantha.ickes@indeonline.com
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