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Council on Aging community liaison surprised by award recognition

Susan Papiri, winner of Oliver Halsell award.
Susan Papiri, community liaison for Council on Aging Southern California Concierge Care Navigators Program, winner of Oliver Halsell award.
(Susan Hoffman)

Susan Papiri had no idea people knew what she did.

The community liaison for the Council on Aging - Southern California Concierge Care Navigators program is the first recipient of the quarterly 2021 Oliver Halsell award for compassionate and devoted caregivers in Orange County, but she didn’t expect to be recognized.

“I was flabbergasted that I won this [award],” Papiri said. “I didn’t consider myself in that category.”

Officials at Fairhaven Memorial Park & Mortuary in Santa Ana created the Halsell Care Awards in 2012 to honor people who have demonstrated exceptional care in their profession and community.

The award is named after Oliver Halsell, who founded Fairhaven in 1911. Among the devoted caregivers that the Oliver Halsell award pays tribute to are Orange County nurses, social workers, volunteers, medical providers, counselors and hospice workers.

An example of the Oliver Halsell senior care awards are displayed at Fairhaven Memorial Park & Mortuary.
An example of the Oliver Halsell senior care awards are displayed at Fairhaven Memorial Park & Mortuary, sponsor of event.
(Courtesy of Fairhaven Memorial Park & Mortuary)

According to General Manager Greg Morones, Papiri’s extensive involvement in the senior care concierge program caught their attention. “Our connection as a [Senior Care Hero Awards] sponsor and seeing Susan out in the community, we recognized and wanted to give back to her,” said Morones. “Susan has a heart for serving others, and we wanted to honor her by recognizing what she’s done to help others.”

Papiri, a La Habra resident and married mother of two daughters, has worked in the field of skilled nursing for most of her 25-year career, during which she helped launch the Senior Care Hero Awards that partnered with Meals On Wheels. For eight years, she hosted the event that recognizes unsung heroes of senior care, an honor Papiri said is “like the Oscars of the senior industry.”

Papiri’s role as community liaison for the Council on Aging - Southern California’s Concierge Care Navigators Program is to educate anyone who interacts with families or seniors about the benefits of seeking assistance with coordinated care management. That includes referrals to nurses, doctors, hospice and wealth and estate planning.

Papiri explained the complexities involved in trying to navigate the bureaucratic maze of elder care, especially during a critical health issue. “If I had known about this program when I was going through trying to navigate my dad’s care, I would have paid any amount to have an expert guide me through,” said Papiri. “It sure would have helped me sleep at night.”

“We plan for vacations so that we can reduce stress and have fun,” said Papiri. “But we don’t plan for aging, which can lead to the same thing by reducing stress.”

Office of the Council on Aging Southern California, located in Irvine.
Office of the Council on Aging Southern California, located in Irvine, helps seniors remain healthy, connected and protected.
(Susan Hoffman)

Concierge Care Navigators, which has been operating for a year, is the fee-for-service program under the umbrella of the Council on Aging. “It is a web-based platform with an RN-supervised care plan, so that they can look at the whole situation,” explained Papiri. “Without preplanning, when a crisis or accident occurs with hospitalization, the family don’t always know what to do.” For example, instead of driving four hours to Henderson, Nev., to handle things for a parent, as Papiri did, the program’s RN expert provides a care plan. “She’s your hand-holder partner, 24-hour access,” said Papiri.

“This is so needed in the community with seniors’ population growing faster than national average,” she said.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the age group of 85 and older is the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. California’s population aged 85 and older will increase 489% during the period of 2010 to 2060, with Orange County’s rising 486.68%, according to the California Department of Aging.

Jamie Cansler, director of development and community outreach, said feedback on the Concierge Care Navigators program has been positive. “We have received heartfelt reaction of family members,” Cansler said.

The Oliver Halsell award ceremony will be held in November for all of the 2021 recipients with families invited to participate in the celebration. Papiri explained that her husband and two adult daughters are proud of all the work she does, and her husband has supported her every step of the way, attending every senior care hero award event and always donating too.

Susan Hoffman is a contributor to TimesOC.

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