(Back row L to R) Jim DiBenedetto, Marnie Matthews, Lee Shuer (Second from back row L to R) Fabia Faria, Michele Martindale, Melissa Moore, Ned Kittredge, Suzanne Tibbets (Third row from back L to R) Karen Sullivan, Maria McAuliffe, Susan Walko, Vanessa Cruz, Lauren Balest, Rich Ciarletta (Front row L to R) Miriam Greenburg, , Julie Parks (Not pictured: Tiffany Machado, Brandon Bronaugh)

Safety Day Successfully Tackles Hoarding

Recently this past April, the North Shore Center for Hoarding & Cluttering (NSCHC) at North Shore Elder Services (NSES), along with an all-volunteer team, participated in the first East Coast Safety Day.

“Safety Day” is a term to describe a “modified clean-out” of a hoarded home. It is deemed a more appropriate and less anxiety provoking term for the client than the term “clean-out.”

The goal of Safety Day is strictly to ensure safety in a client’s home; that means making sure a client can use and access his or her home in the way it was intended to be used without significant risk or harm to his- or herself.

Marnie Matthews, NSES’ Clinical Hoarding Specialist, participated in a Safety Day in Seattle last fall and wanted to duplicate the project here.  As it happened, one of NSES’ Salem State University MSW Interns, Melissa Moore, was looking for a Macro Project to fulfil her graduate studies program.  Safety Day was a perfect fit and the five month planning process to bring it to fruition began.

Carefully identifying an appropriate client to work with was the first most important step.

Marnie Matthews explained the process. “We had to look at logistics like getting volunteers and equipment into the space, the physical and mental risk factors, and whether or not the person was ready to commit to the project.  We wanted to choose someone who would benefit the most and have a high chance of success.”

After the choice was made, there was a period of two months working closely with the client. A professional organizer offered support in making decisions regarding discarding and sorting.  Marnie provided the clinical support in preparation for Safety Day.

On Safety Day, a contingent of eighteen volunteers arrived to bag, box and store belongings

The client had the option to remain on location as the crew methodically began making the space safe. No possessions left the home other than those identified by the client in the preceding months.  Everything else was labelled and stored safely in the home.  There are very specific rules to follow in the procedure which keeps the day running smoothly.  Clinical support is present for Safety Day to manage anxiety.

Talking about details and making important decisions before Safety Day minimizes the stress on the day of the clean-out. This Harm Reduction approach is done with the client’s mental health and stress level during the process as the number one priority.

Marnie Matthews will continue to provide support and counseling in the months to follow. The goal is to now sort through each box one at a time.  All of these steps in planning leading up to Safety Day and follow up support contributes to getting the best and most sustainable results from the clients.

Safety Day is an all-volunteer, all-donation project. This project could not have met with its great success without the hard and compassionate work of our volunteers.

We would like to thank the following;

Lee Shuer – Peer Specialist, Fabia Faria, LCSW, Michele Martindale, LCSW – Greater Lynn Senior Services Hoarding Specialist, Melissa Moore – NSCHC MSW Intern, Officer Suzanne Tibbetts – Elder Liaison Danvers PD, Karen Sullivan, LCSW, Maria McAulliffe – Professional Organizer, Susan Walko – Professional Organizer, Vanessa Cruz, LCSW, Lauren Balest – NSCHC MSW Intern, Julie Parks – NSCHC MSW Intern, Miriam Greenburg, LICSW – Tenancy Preservation Program, Tiffany Machado – Senior Care Hoarding Specialist

And a special thanks to the following volunteers who, along with donating their time and hard work, donated all the supplies necessary for Safety Day:

Ned Kittredge – Heavy Chore Hoarding Specialist, Rich Ciarletta  – ServePro, Jim DiBenedetto – BioPro Boston, Brandon Bronaugh – Top Notch Transitional Services

Perhaps the best measurement of success for Safety Day has been the letter sent to Marnie and her group of volunteers in which the client sends sincere thoughts of appreciation and thanks;

“Words cannot express what this life changing act of kindness you have bestowed and how your giving hearts, talents, and willingness will always remain in my memory. This new day gives relief and hope that this home is well on its way to being the sanctuary that it should be and will make life more manageable.”

If you are interested in learning more about the North Shore Center for Hoarding & Cluttering, you may contact Marnie Matthews at North Shore Elder Services at 978-624-2207 or email her at mmatthews@nselder.org.

Author Info

Jayne Girodat

Jayne Girodat is the Communications Specialist at North Shore Elder Services. Along with ten years in the position of Caregiver Support Specialist at another ASAP, Jayne was a long-distance caregiver to parents for the same amount of time. That experience serves as motivation to better understand the issues of aging and to engage people in conversations about those issues. Jayne's background in teaching contributes to her appreciation of social media as a tool to educate readers on aging concerns. "I love asking people questions. Everyone likes to be heard. When you ask and then listen, you'll find everyone has a story and some of those stories are gems. I think it is particularly important to hear the voices of our older adults. Those are the stories I really connect to and hope to bring to North Shore Elder Services' audience."

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