Op Ed about Health and Elder Services

Elder services support health outcomes where they live: at home

Elder service agencies have long taken an in-home approach to helping people age in place, and shifting perspectives in the public health field are primed to highlight our role in helping people maintain health and wellness.

This increased focus on the health benefits of elder services is part of a larger effort to better quantify how environmental and social conditions—also known as Social Determinants of Health—can influence a wide range of health risks and benefits.

In the big picture, organizations such as the Offices for Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are aiming to improve public health and health outcomes by targeting key Social Determinants of Health for improvement.

Access to healthy food, transportation, and a safe environment—these are all considered important Social Determinants of Health, and these are all areas where Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES) makes a difference every day in our community.

In a very real sense, SCES directly supported public health over the past year when our Meals on Wheels drivers made nearly 250,000 deliveries, when our Home Care program facilitated essential in-home assistance for 1,306 clients, and when our Adult Protective Services program assisted 258 people who were facing elder abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation.

We are proud to be part of what’s increasingly being recognized as the best way forward for improving public health, and our intent is to take on a bigger role in promoting a healthier community.

The Commonwealth is currently transforming how it provides services for many older adults. With the stated goal of providing a more coordinated approach for MassHealth members, the state is moving toward a managed care model, where groups of doctors, hospitals and other providers work together to coordinate care.

We agree that a more holistic approach to health is best, and we’re optimistic that the transition will continue to recognize the valuable and unique perspective that elder service agencies bring to the discussion.

The track record so far is promising: In recent years we’ve established a very successful Hospital to Home partnership with Cambridge Health Alliance to coordinate services that can reduce unnecessary readmissions and support the needs of individuals with complex medical needs.

SCES is also expanding wellness programs that are directly related to public health, such as our recently launched Type 2 Diabetes prevention program. Funded by Medicare, the yearlong wellness-support program is based on studies that indicate people with prediabetes who lose just 7 percent of body fat had a 58% reduction in their chance of developing the disease.

Another example is our recently launched Nutrition Therapy program, which provides personalized in-home support to help people with certain diagnoses improve their health through food choices and lifestyle changes. Funded through Medicare, this program has been shown to reduce symptoms and lessen reliance on medication, and it has been much in-demand since its launch.

This is just a small sample of the impacts that SCES has on local Social Determinants of Health.

Looking ahead, public health policy is transitioning toward greater emphasis on factors outside of the doctor’s office. Having worked with older adults to maintain health and wellness in their homes for more than four decades, we agree that’s a wise approach, and we look forward to being part of that solution.

Paul Hollings is Executive Director of Somerville-Cambridge Elder Services (SCES), a non-profit agency that supports the independence and well-being of older people in Somerville and Cambridge. For more information about elder services and social determinants of health, check out the newest SCES annual report in the “Press” section under the “About” tab at eldercare.org.

Nathan Lamb, Director of Outreach & Community Relations

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