Sustaining health in the Home

Community-academic partnership involves churches, nurses, physicians, friends and family in effort to prevent common causes of hospitalization for older adults

July 24, 2014 College News - Hospitals provide vital acute care to older adults who are admitted with serious symptoms or traumas. Researchers have, however, also analyzed data suggesting that the hospital environment can contribute to accelerated functional decline in elderly patients.

“Hospitals are not bad places, they are absolutely crucial for many things,” said Jeffrey Morzinski, PhD, MSW, Medical College of Wisconsin Department of Family and Community Medicine. “But to sustain senior health in the community, it is important to avoid preventable hospitalizations if possible.”

The Advancing a Healthier Wisconsin endowment funded the One Hundred Healthy, At-Risk Families project in 2013. The project is implementing a pilot intervention to sustain the health of 100 African-American seniors in Milwaukee who are considered “at-risk” for decline because of their history of chronic diseases and prior hospitalizations. The endowment supports the work through its Healthier Wisconsin Partnership Program, which invests in partnerships between Medical College of Wisconsin faculty members and community organizations that aim to improve community health.

The project partners include ten churches and their pastors, who wished to do more to sustain the health of their congregations.

“Pastoral leadership is crucial to the success of this type of project,” Dr. Morzinski said. Among partnership strategies, nurses facilitate monthly discussions about relevant health topics with groups of enrolled seniors and their designated support persons.

“Participants love the sessions,” Julie Ellis, PhD, RN, GCNS, Columbia College of Nursing, said, “and they are eager for more engagement around health-related topics.”

In addition to educational support sessions, the project partners work with enrolled seniors to create an “activated support team,” which includes their primary care doctor, a nurse involved in the project, a church volunteer and the elder’s designated key support person.

“The nurses and the support teams help our participants understand what ‘red flags’ to be vigilant about,” Dr. Ellis said. She explained that red flags are signs or symptoms of pending illness specific to the health of each individual.

The project partners recently shared their work at a “Summit on Safe Homes and Senior Health” held at St. Martin de Porres, one of the partner churches involved in the project. The ministers and community members in attendance were excited about the work that has been done to-date and its future potential to be incorporated in more churches throughout Milwaukee.

“We are focused now on learning from the partnership,” Dr. Morzinski said, “so that we can continue our efforts to better maintain the health of at-risk seniors and strengthen our communities.”

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