Statewide program provides services to people in need

SASH seeks to bring services to senior citizens in their own homes at a lower cost

WESTMINSTER — Cathedral Square Corporation was founded in 1977 as a development and property management service providing affordable senior housing in Chittenden County.

More recently, the South Burlington nonprofit has consulted in the southeastern part of the state on potential senior housing projects in Brattleboro and Townshend.

Its Support and Services at Home (SASH) program, which served almost 3,500 Vermonters as of 2014, was Cathedral Square's “brainchild,” according to Development Director Cindy Reid.

The statewide program, administered by Cathedral Square, began in 2011, in response to dwindling sources of funding for new senior housing development.

Now in its fifth year, SASH is “temporarily funded by Medicare,” Reid said. “We hope that will become permanent as soon as this year.”

SASH also provides a resource tool for communities undergoing the challenge of getting enough primary-care providers and health-care workers to provide the professional services volunteers cannot.

An estimated 85 percent of baby boomers plan to age in their current homes, according to a recent AARP survey, and this desire has concurrently led to an increased need for the number of people dedicated to their care.

According to the Health and Medicine Division of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (formerly the Institute of Medicine), 80 percent of care partners are family members in home settings and report spending, on average, 4.6 years caring for their family members.

The growth of the population of adults 65 and older, and the need for their care, highlights the urgency for communities to develop and institute policies that create environments conducive to this demographic shift, according to a brief on the SASH initiative.

With SASH, the main focus of communities should be to support aging-in-place by building a strong community health-care workforce (CHW) to support primary-care providers who, in most cases, lack the time to provide care and disease-management services.

SASH specifically focuses on improving the experience of caring for seniors, maintaining their health, and reducing the per-capita costs of health care.

The model specifically addresses and supports “Medicare beneficiaries and dual eligibles by utilizing CHWs and wellness nurses to streamline access to medical and nonmedical services” that senior citizens need to stay in their own communities.

Public funding scarce for community housing as need rises

But not enough resources remain to meet all the development needs for community housing.

Community housing serves senior citizens with varying degrees of self-reliance and medical needs. It also is designed for people who are homeless or who are single and for working families.

Reid said that due to that scarcity of funding, they are putting their resources and energies toward “trying to improve and upgrade an additional 28 to 35 units in response to demand.”

“Public funding is very competitive, and there is not enough to go around,” Reid said, noting that this dynamic is taking place in the context of “an exponentially growing senior population.”

And she noted, “The costs of institutional care are crazy.” To make things worse, communities “are shutting down community nursing homes without putting appropriate replacement care in place,” exacerbating a situation where seniors are already receiving less management of their care as they are facing a housing crunch.

So, Reid said, Cathedral Square is forced to work on strengthening existing projects.

And, in any case, aging-in-place has become the preference for seniors.

Agencies and communities all over the state, including Westminster Cares, have come to rely on SASH, especially gratefully in the wake of its 2014 efforts to develop a senior-housing facility in response to a needs-assessment survey the nonprofit conducted.

But the costs to bring water and sewer service to the potential North Westminster site ultimately put the project on hold.

“We were told we really needed an investor with a lot of money” who was interested in developing senior housing, Dawson said - and no such investor materialized.

In the meantime, Dawson said, Westminster Cares uses the SASH program to provide neighbors in need with in-home nursing and care management.

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