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Iron Range nonprofit calling it quits

A nonprofit agency that serves scores of family caregivers on the Iron Range is closing its doors.

Virginia-based Range Respite, founded in 1993, will cease operations on Thursday, acting executive director Linda Kolocek announced on Tuesday.

The agency, which trains and supports caregivers, coordinates volunteers to provide respite for caregivers and offers support groups in Virginia, Hibbing, Chisholm and Aurora, has been experiencing financial and staffing issues for months, Kolocek said in an email.

"At times, payrolls were difficult to meet," she wrote. "We have not been able to find a qualified individual who is willing to work at wages lower than for-profit organizations."

Since Jan. 1, Range Respite has served more than 160 caregivers and offered more than 1,500 group or individual counseling sessions, said Kolocek, who was involved in founding the agency in the early 1990s when she was director of nursing at the Eveleth Fitzgerald Community Hospital and Nursing Home.

An aging population is placing an increasing number of people in the role of caregivers for family members.

The St. Paul-based Wilder Research has projected that at least one in five residents of every Northland county will be 65 or older by 2020. By 2030, the percentage of 65-and-older residents will reach 31 percent throughout the Northland, the research group predicted.

At the same time, agencies that provide help to those populations are strained, especially in smaller communities, those involved in care for the elderly say.

"Unfortunately, funding streams all around ... have been dwindling," said Kristi Kane, director of the Arrowhead Area Agency on Aging. "So these agencies have been having a harder and harder time."

Vivian Chase of Mountain Iron was introduced to Range Respite when her husband, Leroy, was suffering from Parkinson's disease. Through the agency, she took a class called "Powerful tools for caregivers" that "was very powerful for me," she said.

Even after her husband died on Dec. 2, 2014, Chase continued attending a monthly support group for caregivers. She's especially sad, she said, for a woman who joined the group just last month.

"I'm just crushed," Chase said. "Range Respite is a remarkable organization, little known, really, even on the Range."

Shelley Valentini, executive director of the United Way of Northeastern Minnesota, expressed hope that other agencies might fill the gap.

"We're hoping there won't be a void," Valentini said. "There are several ideas."

The Arrowhead Area Agency on Aging is working with a couple of agencies in hopes of meeting the need, Kane said. She noted that trained and certified caregiver consultants are already available because of their work for Range Respite.

The agency currently has four part-time employees whose work will end on Thursday, Kolocek said. She will remain through December, if needed, to help with the dissolution process.