Homebound senior citizens along the Wasatch Front Utah got a healthy shot in the arm Wednesday, thanks to a bill by Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

The Hatch bill, part of the Domestic Volunteer Services Act, provides for senior companion programs in communities throughout the United States.Utah was granted more than $200,000 to fund senior citizens to work as companions to elderly citizens who choose to stay in their homes, rather than go to nursing homes or other institutions.

The program will be established in Utah, Summit, Wasatch, Salt Lake and Weber counties.

"We're elated. We feel like we have a whole new vista of service to people who have been in dire need of service," said Ted Livingston, director of human services for Mountainland Association of Governments, which is comprised of Utah, Summit and Wasatch counties.

"The thrust of the senior companion program is to provide support for seniors being released from the hospitals when their own private support system isn't quite adequate to meet their needs. The senior companions will establish that support system for these people, making it as easy as possible the transition from hospital to home," Livingston said.

According to Hatch, 45 seniors will serve as senior companions at a cost of $114,558 for the first year. Second-year costs will be $163,654. Each senior companion will work 20 hours a week and be paid $2.20 an hour, plus overhead costs.

"Senior companions provide that necessary ingredient that all of us need - simply companionship," Hatch said. "These companions can perform light household tasks, transportation to and from medical facilities, daily supervision, food preparation and other needed services."

Senior companions will receive training on how to identify and deal with problems, first aid care, and how to provide advocacy services.

It's not currently known the exact number of homebound seniors that who will be helped under the program, although Hatch said he believes it will be in the hundreds.

"It is so important that our seniors who want to stay home do so," he said.