SUPPORTING THE HEALTH & WELLNESS OF SENIORS
There is enormous focus in the public and private sector on controlling the extraordinary cost of health care in America. Given the disproportionately large burden that medical care for seniors represents, finding alternatives ways to care for aging Americans has become a major public policy focus.
Mercy Housing’s experience with seniors provides us with a unique perspective on this issue and the benefits that affordable senior housing can provide to meet this challenge. We realize two things: 1) most seniors would prefer to stay out of institutions like nursing homes as long as possible; and 2) helping seniors live independently can save individuals and the government significant amounts of money.
In light of this experience, Mercy Housing has been developing senior communities that enable frail seniors to live independently, instead of needing nursing home care. We have had preliminary success with senior models that include partnerships with health care providers to expand capacity and a control of medical costs through preventative care, wellness services and stable housing.
In fact, seniors who lack access to services and can’t afford their housing are more likely to use emergency rooms and other crisis management services. While stable affordable housing alleviates many of these problems, residents still face health issues and personal financial concerns. With the current median household income of Mercy Housing seniors at only $9,270, it is clear that our residents need support, especially in the high-impact area of chronic disease management.
Today an estimated 133 million people in the U.S. have at least one chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes and asthma. These diseases negatively affect quality of life and threaten the ability of older adults to remain independent within their own homes. Research shows that the more chronic diseases an individual has, the more likely that individual will become hospitalized. As the population ages this number increases and many people face multiple coexisting chronic conditions, placing them at greater risk for disability, reduced quality of life and high health care costs.
Preliminary research supports that housing with supportive services lessens the public burden due to delaying nursing home placements. Older adults are in need of housing opportunities that are accessible and support positive health outcomes. There are certain needs that if addressed, will result in older adults having a higher quality of life.
Recently, 370 Mercy Housing residents were monitored to ensure that the community supports they are receiving are maximizing their ability to continue living independently. Eighty-one percent of these seniors receive outreach contacts in the form of socialization services; and 69 percent participate in nutrition and healthy living classes. Additionally, 42 percent report they are increasing their knowledge of healthy living skills. Mercy Housing continues to provide referrals to local clinics, but the decision to implement a chronic-disease self management program could improve the lives of many residents living at our properties.
By continuing to enhance our chronic-disease self-management program, we can expect the following outcomes for our senior residents: statistically significant improvements in exercise, cognitive symptom management and improved communication with physicians; fewer emergency room visits; improved percentage of aging in place; and reduced health care expenses.