Program offers free health care that helps low-income seniors age in place, improves their health and saves them money
A pilot program that allows low-income seniors to remain living at affordable senior apartment communities in the Sacramento region and receive much of the medical attention they need just steps from their home for free has earned a national award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
LifeSTEPS and USA Properties Fund's RN Coaching PILOT Program has received the 2020 HUD Secretary's Awards for Healthy Homes, an annual award that recognizes programs that promote healthier housing through partnering, outreach and innovative practices. HUD and the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) has recognized only 22 programs since the national award started in 2015, including five programs this year.
“It is heartwarming to receive this award, as in the past we have watched our seniors be prematurely placed in skilled-nursing facilities and this program clearly saves money and returns the dignity to our seniors as they successfully age in place,” said Beth Southorn, Executive Director of LifeSTEPS. “I am so very thankful for our team's hard work, and I have loved watching early heath intervention help our seniors live longer and happier lives.”
The RN Coaching PILOT Program is one of the first of its kind in California and helps seniors, many who have health issues and can't easily get to a doctor, to “age in place,” thanks to an on-site registered nurse who visits their senior communities every week.
“Access to health care is a huge issue for low-income seniors, and having an RN available for residents improves their health, reduces costs, saves time and helps them stay out of the hospital and in their homes longer,” said Geoff Brown, President of USA Properties. “Health is a primary reason why seniors are forced to leave their homes for assisted-living facilities, nursing homes or move in with family members.”
With the RN Coaching PILOT Program, low-income seniors dealing with allergies, a nagging cold or cough, or even chronic conditions – such as arthritis, diabetes, high cholesterol or high-blood pressure – are able to get the health care they need at their apartment communities, said Meredith Chillemi, Director of Aging and Education Services for LifeSTEPS. The registered nurse also assists residents with managing their medications, preventing falls in their apartments and navigating the often-complex world of health care, from choosing a new provider to completing confusing insurance forms.
The goal is to keep residents healthy and out of hospital emergency rooms, and help develop a plan for those who are in the hospital to safely return home as soon as possible, Chillemi said. The program helps about three residents return home from the hospital every week.
More than 900 seniors have accessed the RN Coaching PILOT Program since it started in spring 2016, saving government health insurance programs like Medi-Cal almost $1.2 million. And the percentage of residents moving out of the apartment communities for health issues has dropped 70% during the past four years.
Aging in place has numerous benefits beyond better health for seniors, from cost savings to keeping them mentally and physically active. Seniors often develop close friendships and social support systems in senior apartment communities, and moving them to an assisted-living facility or skilled-nursing home can cause depression and isolation. Assisted-living facilities can also have a financial hardship on residents, their families, government programs and society overall, according to a Harvard Joint Center for Housing Studies.
“The program offers seniors free health care and the opportunity to remain in their apartment communities, where they are close to their friends and often have lived for many years,” USA Properties' Brown said. “Our residents are happier and healthier, and the program saves money.”
Roseville-based USA Properties, one of the largest affordable apartment community developer-builder-managers in the West, and LifeSTEPS, which provides social services at many USA Properties-owned communities, share the cost for the RN Coaching PILOT Program.
The program is available to residents at Sierra Sunrise in Carmichael and Vintage Oaks Senior Apartments in Citrus Heights. USA Properties recently sold Creekside Village Apartments in Sacramento, which had also participated in the pilot program.
The RN Coaching PILOT Program also provides hands-on health care training for nursing students from the Betty Moore School of Nursing at the University of California, Davis. Several nursing students and their nurse adviser have been meeting with patients every week this summer.
USA Properties and LifeSTEPS have been working on finding funding for the program, meeting with elected representatives and health officials during the past few years. A state senator introduced a bill (SB 1292) in February that would have expanded the program to five counties and receive state funding as part of a pilot program. But the Covid-19 pandemic coupled with the state's budget challenges shelved the effort.
“The program has been such a success, in so many ways,” Brown said. “Now, we just need to find the financial support to continue and expand the program to more affordable apartment communities and help more low-income seniors.”