Years ago, Betty decided to make her home at Greencastle of Kenwood, one of 34 Embrace Living Communities. Today, in addition to living in an affordable, welcoming home, Betty is also getting the benefit of a partnership between two CHHSM Ministries, Embrace Living Communities and Advocate Aurora Health, that enhances her lifestyle with healthy living.
“Getting to age in place is important to me,” said Betty. “I have a wonderful home where I now get wonderful help with my health — so what I’m really getting is an affordable, welcoming, healthier home.”
For a year, Advocate Aurora Health and Embrace Living Communities have partnered on a HUD-funded pilot wellness program called IWish. Currently operating at three different Embrace Living Communities locations in Illinois, Advocate Aurora Health nurses provide wellness-based activities, education, and resources for Embrace Living Communities residents — like Betty.
Advocate Aurora Health and Embrace Living Communities came together on this program recently but have long known about the work of each other’s organizations through their affiliation with the United Church of Christ. While there was an awareness, there was little in terms of a strategic and intentional partnership that helps both organizations live out their missions.
“With Embrace Living Communities advocating for housing justice for aging adults and Advocate Aurora Health’s focus on health equity for all, the creation of this program seemed like a natural extension of what our respective organizations do,” said Susan Sinderson, executive vice president of Embrace Living Communities.
The Rev. Bonnie Condon, vice president of community health and the head of the Faith Outreach program for Advocate Aurora Health, says, “Like any partnerships, they can sometimes become stale and deviate from focus, but this program is exciting, and health outcomes are continually improving.”
According to Condon, Advocate Aurora Health has been working on a variety of initiatives, like the one at Embrace Living Communities, to better meet the needs of faith-based organizations for the past 12 years or so, working to provide their leaders with health care-related support. The Faith Outreach and Community Health Team’s primary focus is on intervention and support to help improve health equity for all. This is done using data that Advocate curates to help guide their work to effectively target the most underserved geographic regions and populations. Aging adults are one of those populations as housing can often be a factor in an aging adults’ health.
National studies have statistical evidence that the zip codes of where one lives can determine health nearly as much as genetic codes and income — and each are directly connected to life expectancy.
Instead of one-off health events like lectures or health screenings, Advocate Aurora Health’s community health team is working to improve some of the social conditions that perpetuate poor health. Beyond housing, food security is another significant driver of viability in a community.
“Housing and food security are the two major areas where we focus our work. And though it’s probably not what people think hospitals should be doing, it’s actually more impactful because it helps with the economic development of individuals, families, and then the community,” said Condon. “If you don’t have supportive services or safe housing, particularly if you’re suffering from addiction or behavioral health issues, you can get a prescription for medication, but if you don’t have the wherewithal to even get the most basic of needs, then your ability to be healthy is nearly impossible.”
Through the IWish program, nurses are not providing clinical care, but they have the expertise to offer information that can be crucial to residents’ health. For example, based on a questionnaire, a nurse identified high blood pressure in one resident and suggested the resident call their physician. Within the week, the resident had received medication prescribed by their doctor. In a separate case, a resident’s completed questionnaire prompted the nurse to call the residents’ physician who advised a trip to the ER, where the resident ended up receiving life-saving medical treatment.
“With the help of the team, nurses, and social services, our residents who are part of the IWish program are learning to make decisions about health- related goals which lead to safe and healthy lives,” says Iris Berg, director of social service and quality for Embrace Living. “Taking part in the offered wellness programs and activities put our residents at the center of their health and wellness.”
By helping residents stay healthy and avoid regular hospital trips and emergency medical care, these programs allow residents to age in place, which is the ultimate mission for Advocate Aurora Health and Embrace Living Communities.
The IWish pilot program is funded until the end of 2019.
The original version of this story appeared on the Embrace Living Communities’ blog.