Kelli Wenger

Kelli Wenger relaxes in the Willow Valley Cultural Center.

At 70, Kelli Wenger keeps busy.

She loves watching sports and participating in them. She swims, works out, walks, loves to travel, enjoys spending time on her computer, reads and, of course, spends time with friends. She plays softball, golfs and goes out to dinner with her husband, Dick, and her friends.

The Wengers live on the outskirts of Quarryville surrounded by Amish farms and cornfields. They have a son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter. They also have “a goofy cat named Chase (named after Chase Utley).”

Kelli taught in the Solanco School District, then worked with her husband at Wenger Pontiac-GMC, what she calls “a mom and pop GM dealership.” They sold it in 2003.

They live a full, active life. They are very much into living in the present.

“We’re independent right now and we want to retain our independence.”

But the Wengers are aware that at any time all that might change. They know that the best time to plan for the future is now, while they are healthy and independent.

That is why they chose to become charter members of SmartLife VIA Willow Valley, a new Lifecare at Home membership-based program. SmartLife is only one of 15 such programs in the U.S.

“We were open to the idea right away and the more we learned the more we felt it suited our needs,” Kelli said.

The Wengers knew that they didn’t want to move into a retirement community. They wanted to age in place, in their home.

Michele Sipel, director of home and community based services for Willow Valley, said SmartLife is a unique concept in care.

“You don’t have to worry about your family advocating for you. You don’t have to worry about being a burden on somebody else or worry about how the healthcare world is changing. You’re taken care of.”

“Life care at home is not a new concept,” Terri Givens, manager of marketing and sales for SmartLife, said, noting Willow Valley’s is the third Lifecare at Home program in Pennsylvania. It is the only one in Lancaster County.

While other retirement communities offer home-care services, Sipel said, “Smart Life is different.”

“Home-care programs are based on fees for services,” she said. Care is based on a specific need, and fees are paid for that specific service.

Home-care programs are licensed through the state Department of Health, while SmartLife is licensed through the state Department of Insurance, Sipel said.

“Our program is membership based, and encompasses much more than home-care services,” Sipel said.

SmartLife VIA Willow Valley started in June 2014.

“We held many focus groups prior to offering this program,” said Givens. “We discovered that the seniors of Lancaster County expressed a great interest in a Lifecare at Home program which delivers care coordination, companion services, personal care and nursing care, all while protecting members from increasing costs in care. Members are cared for for life and can age in place at home. And, should their health care needs change, SmartLife will be there to help.”

“Ninety-five percent of people that are age- and income-qualified do not want to move to a retirement community,” Sipel said. “SmartLife offers healthcare needs and offers the services they need without having to move.”

Services may be anything from delivered meals, transportation to medical appointments and adult day care, to personal and/or nursing care.

Along with staying in their homes, the Wengers like the fact that the fees do not change based on the services needed. There is a one-time membership fee and then a monthly fee.

“It was an easy decision,” Kelli Wenger said, noting they like the security of having lifetime care while remaining in their home and the opportunity to work with the SmartLife staff

“I also like the Willow Valley perks, which allow us to use their facilities and programs as members,” Kelli said on a recent morning after working out in the fitness center. She planned to use her SmartLife discount card at a local grocery store when she did her shopping afterward.

“Getting older makes us realize that we are not invincible.”

Givens says response to the program has been positive, with 28 new members in the first six months. They range in age from 63 to 95.

The application process starts with an appointment with a SmartLife adviser, followed by a medical review, a financial review and a home visit to determine eligibility.

The minimum age is 60. There is no maximum age. Members must list Lancaster County as their primary residence.

SmartLife is a lifetime program, covering members from the time of membership to end of life. Couples living in the same house receive a discount.

SmartLife offers three levels of coverage: 100 percent of costs, cost sharing and 50-50 split of costs. A one-time membership fee for a 70-year-old ranges from $20,000 to $45,000. Monthly fees range from $485 to $530 for individuals.

Membership fees and monthly payments are tax deductible as a pre-paid medical expense, Sipel said.

“We’ve done a lot of research,” Sipel said. “The SmartLife program focuses on what Lancaster County residents want in a Lifecare at Home, membership-based program.”

Members are assigned a Lifecare coordinator to arrange for services they might need. This takes the burden of arranging for care away from other family members.

SmartLife information seminars are held monthly in Lancaster County. For dates and times, call Michele Bunnell at 299-5673.