As America’s aging population continues to grow so too do the demands on local communities to meet that population’s changing health care needs.
“There’s a real push for people not to be in nursing homes unless they absolutely have to be,” said Robyn Golden, director of health and aging at Rush University Medical Center, during the National Healthcare Innovation Summit on Wednesday in Chicago. “People don’t want to live in institutions.”
But many aging Americans face significant challenges when trying to remain in their homes, including homes that cannot support their changing health needs, burned-out family caregivers and a lack of community services. At the same time, those challenges also present opportunities for communities to adapt and promote aging in place, industry leaders said.
“People say they want to age in place, but really they want to age in community,” said Dr. Paul Tang, vice president and chief innovation and technology officer at Palo Alto Medical Foundation.
Modify the Home
Older Americans often leave their homes because it lacks necessary modifications to meet their health care needs, Golden said.
“We’re spending more [to place them] in a nursing home when all we had to do was modify their home,” she said. “If we put home modification in a [home-based community service budget] we could show the impact of cost savings compared to being institutionalized.”
Housing is a critical component of senior wellness, said J. Thomas Briody, president and chief executive officer of the Institute on Aging.
The Institute on Aging is piloting a program to help transition people in skilled nursing who “don’t belong there and those at risk of being in skilled nursing” following release from a hospital into the home, Briody said, noting the programs also include other services such as transportation and groceries.
“We’re talking about millions of potential dollars saved each year and transforming a person’s life,” he said. “This is just a glimmer of what the future can be.”
Support Family Caregivers
The No. 1 challenge for caregivers is knowing where to go to get the supports they need, Briody said, citing a recent program involving caregivers in California’s Bay Area.
“There is a vast array of services,” he said. “But how do they find it? How do they pay for it?”
Without much-needed supports, the health of caregivers themselves can derail, creating a larger population health care concern.
“We do not have a long-term care policy in this country,” said Golden. “The closest thing we have are family caregivers, who are often times compromising their careers and finances. They’re depressed.”
Reaching family members before all resources are exhausted is key, Golden said.
Provide Community Services
Ultimately, community service organizations need to recognize the role they can play in both supporting caregivers and providing care beyond a hospital’s walls.
“The team of care for a hospital patient is not within the four walls,” Golden said.
Communities can’t rely on federal social services to address all of its residents’ needs, Tang said.
“We need to tap into what’s already there,” Tang said, naming churches, temples, senior centers and organizations such as the YMCA as examples of places for aging residents to find resources.
Acute care should be the exception, Briody said.
“The hospital should be where you go when everything in the community cannot support you,” Briody said. “That’s the fundamental change — we need to look at preventative and post acute care in a new light.”
Written by Cassandra Dowell