By Lois Solomon, Sun-Sentinel

At Temple Sinai in Delray Beach, elderly can get medical care, medications, meals.

Some seniors who want to avoid placement in a nursing home have a new alternative. And it’s free.  PACE, or Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, has opened its second Palm Beach County site at Temple Sinai of Palm Beach County in Delray Beach. Seniors who are older than 55 and eligible for a nursing home through Medicaid can get PACE’s services at no cost, including care from doctors, nurses, physical therapists and rehabilitation specialists, as well as meals, home visits, classes and transportation to and from their homes.

The program is sponsored by MorseLife Health System, a nonprofit senior care organization based in West Palm Beach, where the agency opened its first PACE program in 2013. PACE has 132 sites across the country; Florida sites are also in Miami, Clearwater and Fort Myers.

The Delray Beach program opened in January and has 32 clients but room for about 200, said Dr. Alan Sadowsky, a MorseLife senior vice president. The West Palm Beach site has about 170 patients.

PACE programs are designed to provide everything low-income seniors need to maintain their independence, including nutrition counseling, occupational therapy, prescription drugs, dentistry and optometry. The model was designed in San Francisco in the 1970s, when descendants of Italian, Chinese and Phillipine immigrants sought community-based care for their aging parents, according to the National PACE Association.

“I enjoy every moment of every day I go here,” said Shirley Brickman, 94, of Boynton Beach. She said all her friends had died and her two sons began to worry about her loneliness and unwillingness to leave her house. Her hearing began to fail, and she slipped several times and broke her wrist.   Now, three days a week, she attends PACE in Delray Beach, where she eats breakfast, lunch and two snacks, exercises, visits a doctor and plays card games.  “You don’t pay for any medical care here,” she said, “and they kiss me when I walk in.”

Dr. Sadowsky said PACE leaders seek to avoid expensive hospital or nursing-home stays for their patients by providing extensive preventive care. Medical practitioners check in with them regularly, either at Temple Sinai or at their homes. Specialists also visit the seniors’ homes to check for dangers such as falling risks, and may raise a toilet seat or add a grab bar to a shower.

This senior monitoring system is one of several new models that have been developed over the past couple of decades to allow the elderly to age at home, said Dr. Joseph Ouslander, senior associate dean for geriatric programs at Florida Atlantic University’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine.  Other programs include Independence At Home, which brings primary care to seniors’ houses, and GRACE Team Care, based at Indiana University, which uses an interdisciplinary medical squad to coordinate and track the seniors’ progress.

Ouslander said PACE is also a good model but serves a small population and hardly makes a dent in “a big social problem,” the nation’s growing multitude of medically needy seniors.

In Florida, projections by the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research show 24 percent of residents will be older than 65 by 2030, up from 19 percent today.

Sadowsky said PACE in Palm Beach County has lots of room to grow. The program spent about $1 million to renovate a wing of Temple Sinai with offices, classrooms and a mini-hospital.   “We are working with people of limited means, minorities, the underserved,” Sadowsky said. “We become their provider, and we pay for what they need.”

For more information on PACE, call 561-868-2999.