Presence Health program uses staff, volunteer visits to support elders aging in place

Rosann ProsserORLANDO, Fla. — A program from Chicago's Presence Health enables homebound elderly people to remain in their homes even as their health is declining. Two staff members and a corps of volunteers visit the elders regularly to address a wide variety of needs.

"It's a blessing" to elderly Chicagoans who do not want to move out of their homes but whose health and circumstances make it difficult to stay there, said Rosann Prosser, director of clinical operations for Presence Home Health of Des Plaines, Ill., and head of the Presence Health Homebound Elderly initiative. She presented an Innovation Forum session Monday, June 6, at the Catholic Health Assembly titled "At the Margins of Society: Helping Homebound Elderly Age in Place."

She explained to attendees that the program began four decades ago when five Chicagoland hospitals -- some of them now part of Presence Health — collaborated to address the problem of frail, low-income seniors using the emergency department to address acute but not emergency-level conditions. "They were coming in sicker and sicker," many were repeatedly coming to the hospital for unmet health needs and many were being discharged to skilled nursing facilities because they didn't have the right support at home to address medical and nonmedical issues, Prosser said.

The group of hospitals developed the model of engaging hospital staff and volunteers in homebound seniors' care. The program has evolved and now, as Presence Homebound Elderly program, it uses a nurse, medical social worker and trained volunteers to visit dozens of frail elders annually to help coordinate their care, monitor their medications, educate them on their conditions, address their spiritual needs, take care of light household duties and other activity.

At a cost of just $4,000 per patient per year, the initiative has improved the patients' health, reduced their hospital admissions and reduced the length of stays of those who did have to be hospitalized.