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SASH celebrates 10 years

Brattleboro Housing Partnerships was first to adopt program that helps those with disabilities live independently

BRATTLEBORO—Support and Services at Home (SASH) is celebrating 10 years of success statewide, offering services to help keep older adults and people with disabilities healthy, living independently, and enjoying better quality of life.

SASH programs are located at congregate housing sites and serve those residents and other community members. Brattleboro Housing Partnerships (BHP) was the first housing authority to embrace the program.

“Having SASH based at the housing site is what makes it work,” says BHP Executive Director Christine Hazzard. “We’re able to develop trusting relationships with residents and really get to know them so we can recognize when something is wrong and step in to offer any help they may need.”

“We also build fun into everything we do because we want people to enjoy themselves,” she says.

Cathedral Square in Burlington manages the SASH program, which is implemented regionally by six Designated Regional Housing Organizations (DRHOs) that collectively serve the state.

BHP hosts the DRHO in southern Vermont, which covers Windham and Windsor counties, including Brattleboro, Townshend, Springfield, White River Junction, and Windsor.

In this DRHO, the average age of SASH participants is 73; the eldest is 98 years old.

SASH uses individual check-ins to create healthy living plans, develop personal rapport, and coordinate support with community providers for those in the program.

Upcoming programming is typical of the combination of fun and practical help that SASH strives to offer in tai chi, chair yoga, managing hypertension through exercise and diet, and addressing general vision decline.

“Residents are thrilled to engage in programming to support the attainment of positive health outcomes,” says SASH Coordinator Jake Bursky.

Nonagenarian Alice Thomas, of Brattleboro, has been a SASH participant for a decade and praises the program.

“I joined SASH 10 years ago at Melrose Terrace because I was very sick,” says Thomas. “My daughter was helping me out a lot, but I needed more help. SASH helped me in every possible way with rides, a walker, and a wheelchair. They were always available to answer my questions.

“Since I’ve been at Red Clover Commons they have come whenever I need to check my oxygen or have questions about my health,” she says.

“They suggest when I should call my doctor, or they call for me,” Thomas adds. “SASH has been involved in every need I have. I ask a lot of questions and the nurse is able to answer most of them and if they don’t know the answer, they find out for me.”

Other residents, including Hayes Court resident Jeannie Sutherland, give back to their communities by drawing from their backgrounds. She has been offering a watercolor painting program to residents.

“As a lifelong artist and then, later, an art therapist, I have found that making art is an opportunity for meaningful expression and when done in groups, a social opportunity,” Sutherland says.

“Many of us have been isolated,” she continues. “Being together to create with an attitude of play is so needed at this time. I am offering this for others and for myself. I am not teaching; I am just offering an accepting atmosphere of creative expression.”

Others agree the program works and makes a big difference in their lives. “SASH has given me consistent, thoughtful, and much-appreciated support,” says Whitney Nichols, a resident at the Ann Wilder Richards Building.

“I have participated in SASH for many years,” says Lois Golec. “They are like little angels that come around and help. They sit and explain stuff to you — that’s a help — and they help me learn more about what is going on with me. They always encourage me to get out more and walk.”

Since SASH was introduced at BHP in 2011, 1,245 people have been served. The average SASH participant at BHP has seven chronic conditions; the top three are anxiety, depression, and hypertension.

Statewide, participants in the SASH hypertension-management program have lowered their systolic blood pressures (the upper number in a blood pressure reading) by an average of 16 points, and 80 percent of those in the diabetes-management program now have lower blood sugar levels within a “healthy” threshold.

Such results, in turn, reduce the need for costly medical interventions and save health care dollars.

Since COVID-19 started, isolation, depression, and other mental health conditions have greatly increased, says BHP SASH Implementation Manager Shawna Jones.

“SASH provides support to those who are experiencing these conditions through group programming and wellness activities such as blood pressure clinics and walking groups,” Jones says. “SASH sends referrals on the participants’ behalf to outside agencies to provide additional support.”

SASH’s community partners include the community health team at Brattleboro Memorial Hospital, Health Care and Rehabilitative Services (HCRS), Senior Solutions, Bayada Home Health Care, the Visiting Nurses Association, and the Gathering Place.

These partner relationships have grown stronger since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Vermont Foodbank has been an invaluable connection for SASH in bringing additional food to our residents, many who may have otherwise gone without,” adds Jones.

To learn more, contact Jones at 802-246-1538.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #630 (Wednesday, September 15, 2021). This story appeared on page A3.

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