Near the end of the famous Santa Monica Pier is the Pacific Wheel, a solar-powered Ferris wheel that soars over the Pacific Ocean and dazzles late into the night. And just three blocks from the famed landmark are the offices of WISE & Healthy Aging, an organization that likely brings as much joy as the Ferris wheel to Southern California families - just in a very different way.
This legacy is a testament to the decades of hard work that have transformed senior care in the United States into something that families can embrace rather than fear. Reach Further recently spoke to Molly Davies, President and CEO of WISE & Healthy Aging, about this evolution.
"We listen to the community to figure out what they need and want, then work as their advocates to provide it," Davies says, outlining a newer, client-centric approach that puts more control back in the hands of their senior clients.
This progression makes sense when you learn that the group that would become WISE & Healthy Aging started in 1976, when five Santa Monica seniors knew there had to be a better way for people like them to access the healthcare they needed.
So they started building that better way.
Over time, the founders and those who came after continued to change things for the better. And the organization that would become WISE & Healthy Aging developed a nationally recognized model for the delivery of social supports and services to people over 55 by focusing on advocacy for those in skilled nursing and other facilities, case management to help people age at home, elder abuse prevention, disease prevention and health promotion, social engagement to combat loneliness and counseling to assist with the normal challenges associated with aging.
By the mid-2000s, professional staff and more than 800 volunteers were providing more than 35,000 client contact services annually. The agency was even designated as the "31st Point of Light" in President George Bush's Thousand Points of Light program that recognized community volunteer service.
But in early 2020, COVID-19's dark cloud threatened that beacon of hope. Fortunately, WISE & Healthy Aging had been a client of East West Bank since 2015.
"We're in a strong financial position, but we need to rely on banking relationships when the unexpected happens," Davies told Reach Further. "And when we applied for a Paycheck Protection Program loan in order to support operations, East West Bank was there to guide us through the whole process."
"The support was remarkable, helping our finance team into the wee hours of the night and on weekends. We just absolutely couldn't have done it without the support of East West Bank."
Today, WISE & Healthy Aging manages 10 offices across Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties and provides more than 30,000 annual client contact services in English, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Armenian, Russian and other languages spoken by their clients.
Molly Davies - who has worked at the organization for more than 20 years - acknowledges the hard-earned progress.
"We're always working to ensure that our clients are getting excellence in the services we provide," she told us. "We are known innovators in our programming, from elder abuse prevention to case management, to our long-term care ombudsman program," which helps ensure quality of care - a role sorely missing back when those five seniors met in Santa Monica and pledged to make change.
According to Davies, fifty years after the organization's founding, "WISE & Healthy Aging is known for high quality service and for meeting needs in the community that had often gone unmet." And families across Southern California are the better for it, knowing their loved ones are in experienced, caring hands.
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