LeadingAge Magazine · March/April 2013 • Volume 03 • Number 02

LeadingAge Innovations Fund Helps Put Good Ideas Into Action

March 10, 2013 | by Dianne Molvig

The Fund’s first grant recipients are working to bring together housing and services to allow low-income elderly to age in place.

Aging-services providers often face limited financial resources, but they have a wealth of ideas for making life better for the elderly. The LeadingAge Innovations Fund aims to put more of those ideas into action.

“The thinking behind the fund is that innovation doesn’t have to be an expensive new program or a new way of constructing buildings,” says Michael Bell, senior vice president of philanthropy and executive director of the Center for Mission Advancement at LeadingAge. “Sometimes people just come up with a cool new way to serve their community. The Innovations Fund can be a catalyst.”

Launched in fall 2011, the fund has raised donations of $1.8 million so far toward a $2.5 million goal. The latter amount will allow four or five $25,000 grants each year into perpetuity, Bell explains. To help fund the first round of four grants awarded in January 2013, the NewCourtland Foundation made a $50,000 matching contribution.

“We had an epiphany that we could serve our mission in ways that go beyond our own ability to provide services,” says Gail Kass, NewCourtland’s president/CEO. “We can help other organizations that need a boost. It’s like throwing a pebble in a lake. Your impact gets wider.”

In this first funding cycle, grants went to projects that bring together housing and services to allow low-income elderly to age in place safely. Here is a look at the four grant recipients.

Older people may have multiple doctors, and they may get prescriptions filled at several pharmacies. They also may be taking over-the-counter medications, vitamins and other supplements. The resulting mix can have repercussions ranging from mental confusion to death. One organization is using its Innovations Fund grant to help prevent this problem.

“Our goal is to decrease hospitalizations resulting from polypharmacy issues and keep the elderly independent in their homes,” says Mary Anne Foley, project coordinator for the HomeMeds program of AgeWell Pittsburgh, a collaboration of the Jewish Association on Aging, the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, and the Jewish Family and Children’s Center.

The program entails at-home visits to low-income senior housing residents. “A nurse or social worker sits down with the resident,” Foley says, “to find out about all the medications stored in bathroom cabinets, kitchen cupboards, nightstands, shoeboxes … We want to get an accurate picture of everything the resident is taking.”

Equipped with a laptop computer, the nurse or social worker enters that information into the HomeMeds software in real time, along with information about reported health problems, vital signs and so on. The software then posts alerts to signal potential medication-related problems and produces a complete medication profile.

A consulting pharmacist reviews the profile, and the resident’s doctor receives a report about any problems. Ultimately, only the doctor can change prescriptions. “Our message to physicians is that you are the decision-maker,” Foley says. “Our role is to raise awareness, educate the consumer and proactively identify medication issues.”

For Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly in Brighton, MA, the Innovations Fund grant came “at the perfect time,” says Caren Silverlieb, director of strategic planning and partnerships. “We’re launching our memory support initiative, and this grant will help us implement step one.”

That step involves training staff in the Habilitation Therapy model, which was developed by Dr. Paul Raia for the Massachusetts/New Hampshire chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association. This therapy identifies specific strategies for maximizing a person’s potential at any stage of the illness.

“We’re partnering with the Alzheimer’s Association to use their therapy model and apply it to independent senior housing,” Silverlieb says. “We’ll test and tweak it to make it more appropriate for this setting.”

Some staff will receive 12 hours of training in Habilitation Therapy, and then they will train the rest of the staff. “Our staff wants more education,” Silverlieb says, “so they can support our residents.”

Thus, the training will reach not only service coordinators, who work most closely with residents, but also any personnel who interact with residents with Alzheimer’s, dementia or other cognitive impairments.

Service coordinators will get additional training, as well, and have access to monthly support meetings, with the Alzheimer’s Association providing consultation on tough cases. The Gerontology Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston will evaluate the training program’s results.

“After testing and adapting it to independent elderly housing,” Silverlieb says, “we hope we will be able to help other communities use this therapy model.”

An on-site health clinic proved to be immensely popular at Sayre Christian Village in Lexington, KY, which partnered with a local physicians’ group to establish the clinic in one of its independent living communities. The purpose was to remedy a problem: Residents, who average 86 years of age, were skipping doctor visits. Some lacked transportation; others didn’t like sitting in physicians’ waiting rooms or had other issues.

Now that there’s primary care available at the on-site clinic, “We see a lot fewer ambulances pull up to our front door and have fewer admissions to nursing homes,” says Charlotte Potter, services coordinator.

The clinic’s success, however, triggered new challenges. In addition to her service coordinator duties, Potter took on such tasks as reminding residents of medical appointments or handling clinic-related issues. It got to be too much, raising the question of how the 18-month-old clinic could continue to thrive and offer more services to more residents.

“We needed somebody besides me to be a liaison between the residents and the physicians group,” Potter says. “That’s why we applied for the grant.”

Sayre Christian Village now has a half-time liaison who acts as a facilitator and communicator. She not only answers residents’ questions and reminds them of appointments, but also builds awareness about the clinic. “It’s wonderful for our residents,” Potter says, “to have that person to link them to the wellness center’s activities.”

The Francis E. Parker Memorial Home in Piscataway, NJ, has offered adult day programs in the community for many years. Recently, the organization struck on a new idea. “Rather than trying to get seniors to our locations, we’ll go out and bring what we have to them,” says Gloria Zayanskosky, quality and operational excellence officer.

That led to creation of the Parker Day Club at Home, which will operate at five different senior housing buildings in the community, none of which are owned by Francis Parker.

“In working with these buildings’ property managers,” Zayanskosky says, “we realized a lot of residents would love a program like this. But because of physical, cognitive or confidence problems, they don’t want to leave home.”

When fully operational by this summer, Parker Day Club at Home will be on site one day a week at each of the five housing sites, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Seniors will be able to enjoy exercise programs, music, discussion groups, crafts and a hot noon meal. “The major focus will be on bringing fun into health and wellness,” Zayanskosky says.

She acknowledges it can be hard to break through to seniors who have grown accustomed to their isolation. “What we’re hoping,” Zayanskosky says, “is that we’ll develop a bit of a buzz in the buildings. People will hear about this and say, ‘That sounds like fun. I want to try it.’”

For more about the LeadingAge Innovations Fund, click here, where you’ll find information about the first round of recipients, a prospectus for the Fund and a pledge form.