As anyone responsible for health care services in Canada knows, those with the greatest needs are often the least able or willing to speak out about their concerns, seek medical treatment or public services, or determine the programs or standards that are in place for their safety and health.
By Wanda Hayes, BN, RN
Unfortunately, the risks to an individual’s well-being—and the costs of solutions—can rise the longer health and safety concerns go unrecognized. For at least one identifiable group in New Brunswick—seniors living in subsidized public housing—these challenges are being successfully addressed through the Safety Evaluations program, a partnership involving the Canadian Red Cross, the provincial government and other organizations.
The Safety Evaluations program is part of the province’s long-term care strategy, which aims to support seniors in their desire to live independently for as long as possible. Even in a small province such as New Brunswick (with a population of 756,050 in 2013, according to Statistics Canada) the implications are enormous, as the percentage of the population over the age of 65 years—already among the highest in Canada at 16.5 per cent—continues to rise.
Our target audience
The Safety Evaluations program serves about 2,200 low-income seniors who occupy some 1,700 rental units in 124 large and small non-profit housing complexes in urban and rural areas across the province. Through the Department of Social Development, many of the program’s clients qualify for subsidies to ensure rent consumes no more than 30 per cent of their monthly income.
As a major provider of home support and other community health programs, such as friendly reassurance visits and phone calls, transportation and meals for seniors, the Canadian Red Cross already had ongoing professional and volunteer contact with many of these seniors. At no cost to the clients, the Safety Evaluations program now brings professionals to their doors for non-medical evaluations of health and well-being, identifying and addressing issues through education, as well as connecting clients to government services and community resources.
The program was announced in February 2010 and was funded under a three-year, $600,000 service-delivery contract. Since then, more than 20,000 hours have been dedicated to evaluating seniors living in non-profit housing complexes.
As part of each annual safety evaluation, a trained Canadian Red Cross worker interviews the senior and inspects and evaluates his or her home and daily living environment, taking into
account such factors as personal safety, physical conditions, nutritional status, behavioural factors, personal care and social and communication capabilities. The evaluation determines if seniors need help with housekeeping, maintenance, mobility, meals or personal care, and if they are feeling lonely and isolated. The Red Cross personnel who conduct these evaluations have diverse backgrounds, from nurses and licensed practical nurses to geriatric aides, home economists and family support workers.
If there are concerns about a client’s ability to live independently then additional visits may be carried out by Red Cross personnel or professionals from the Department of Social Development. This results in a more detailed assessment and often leads to recommendations for further support services that are discussed with the senior, his or her family and an assigned coordinator through the department.
How we have made a difference
As a result of the interview and evaluation process, more than 1,600 evaluations have revealed potential safety risks and referrals for further support services to address immediate needs. In addition, 779 referrals have been made to community programs and organizations and more than 7,000 promotional materials have been distributed to help residents with choices that may enable them to continue living independently in their home.
Providing educational information and links to community resources has proven to be one of the most vital and popular aspects of the program, which partners with community resources to offer monthly wellness-based learning opportunities. Since the inception of the Safety Evaluation program, more than 9,600 residents have attended education sessions in their housing complexes on topics such as:
• smoking cessation
• acute and chronic disease and illness
• fire safety
• disease prevention
• blood pressure clinics
• falls prevention
• memory loss
• fraud awareness
• foot-care clinics
In addition to benefitting a component of the senior population that often faces significant socio-economic, poverty and health challenges, there has been another positive impact: greater collaboration among community health organizations toward a shared goal of strengthening senior health and wellness in New Brunswick. Some examples include the Canadian Red Cross partnering with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, the University of New Brunswick, New Brunswick Community College and several provincial departments, agencies and other organizations.
The Safety Evaluation program for seniors in public housing has been a great success in New Brunswick as a method of connecting the province’s long-term care strategy with its intended audience: seniors at risk due to health-related and environmental factors. Outcomes include an increase in health and wellness education among seniors, identifying and addressing potential hazards, and making referrals to available community resources.
A successful collaboration
Most importantly, the program has provided seniors with the opportunity to invest in their own health and well-being. It offers an avenue by which they can communicate their needs and contribute to their long-term care plan with the support of trained professionals. It is a leading example of improving the health and well-being of seniors through government and community collaboration.
Wanda Hayes, BN, RN, is the Canadian Red Cross’ Operations Manager for New Brunswick. She oversees community health programs province-wide, including home support services and the Safety Evaluation program.
Photo: Red Cross Canada