Bath ‘aging in place’ program helps seniors stay in their homes

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BATH — A year and a half after measuring the area’s housing needs, Bath Housing is tackling some of those issues with a Community Aging in Place program.

Through the program, Bath Housing maintenance staff helps residents make safety modifications to their homes. The free program, a partnership with Habitat for Humanity/7 Rivers and CHANS Home Health Care, serves homeowners who are elderly or disabled in greater Bath.

The idea for the program came out of a fall 2014 focus group at the Bath Senior Center. The Bath Housing assessment was published that November.

“The needs out there are tremendous, and at Bath Housing we’ve really taken a multi-pronged approach to assessing them,” Executive Director Debora Keller said in a March 16 interview.

Another approach was polling everyone who walked into Bath Housing’s office, to better understand their individual housing challenges. In particular, the organization heard about the “inability for people to maintain their home, or to live in their home, because it’s not suitable for them as they have aged, and their health issues have changed,” Keller said.

Meanwhile, Bath Housing has had a maintenance team in place that is experienced with work orders in the apartments of elderly people, she added.

“We call them our first responders,” Keller said. “They know this population so well, and they’re so good with them. So when you put it all together, this program just created itself.”

During a trial period, the program conducted 18 home assessments and 15 installations, according to a March 11 Bath Housing press release. Of those participants, 88 percent had experienced a fall in the past year, while 35 percent fell more than once.

In response, Bath Housing has installed 31 grab bars, 34 smoke detectors, eight hand rails, 13 carbon monoxide detectors, two toilet safety rails and four shower wands, and made other repairs.

“A lot of people who have these maintenance needs, or safety needs, don’t know who to call, and they don’t know who to trust,” Keller said, noting the frequency of fraud and exploitation of the elderly.

One of the questions Bath Housing asks in its initial assessment is whether applicants wish to remain in their homes as they age, according to Amy Liechty, coordinator of the Aging in Place program.

“Unanimous ‘yes,'” she continued, recalling one 92-year-old woman who had lived in her home for 50 years and had no desire to move.

“There is no doubt in my mind,” Keller said. “We hear it loud and clear: This is where people want to be; they want to stay in their homes.”

The John T. Gorman Foundation, which invited Bath Housing to apply for grant funds, awarded the program $156,000 last July. Bath Housing is focused on the program’s sustainability and expansion, as well as replicating the initiative in other communities, Keller said.

To be eligible, residents must be older than 60 or have a disability, own their home or live in one owned by a family member, and be a resident of Bath, Arrowsic, Georgetown, Phippsburg, West Bath, or Woolwich. They must also have an annual income of less than $40,050 for a single person, or $45,800 for a family of two.

Call Bath Housing at 443-3116 or visit bathhousing.org for more information.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Joshua Dubois of Bath Housing, left, and Steve Bolton of Habitat for Humanity collaborate on a doorway-widening project as part of a new Community Aging in Place program for seniors and disabled residents in greater Bath.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.