From the Ground: Aging in Place
Aging in Place Program Coordinator Kayla Miller shares her vision for the program as Red Feather looks to support tribal elders living safely in their homes.
Aging in Place is one of our newest programs, furthering Red Feather’s mission of meeting housing needs for people on the Hopi and Navajo Nations in the ways they define as most needed. After receiving seed funding from the Kendal Charitable Trust in 2018 to start providing more specific aging in place services, Red Feather’s elder-focused services have continually expanded.
What has been the biggest success of the aging in place programs so far?
The way we’ve been able to make the aging in place program work with our other, wide-reaching programs, like our APS weatherization program. Case-managers go to homes for weatherization audits which allows us to see what elders actually need. Not everyone needs all the aging in place items we offer. Some elders don’t have full showers so a shower chair might not work for them. Some desperately needs ramps while others are more affected by temperature extremes. Our case-management style of working with people, and going on audits to weatherize homes, allows us to actually meet people where they are and hear from them directly about what they need.
Where would you like to see the program go?
I would like to see more of in-home meeting with clients. With the new field positions based in Hopi and Navajo, we are hoping we will be able to increase the amount of people getting direct in-home audits. This allows us to just really see where elders are at on an individual level.
I also want to see us advertising this program more, which is a work in progress. I think there are lots of elders out there that could benefit that we haven’t reached yet. I’ve heard from multiple people: “This is just what I needed, I didn’t even know you did this! Thank you so much!” So yes, we will be ramping up awareness of the program as we get more funding for aging in place kits.
A lot of people are on disability or social security- so they go there first for resources, but these programs can’t always meet all their aging in place needs, and definitely can’t go into people’s homes like we do. Red Feather is a great resource for people so we just want to get the word out.
What have you seen as far as the extent of the need for elder support and aging in place? How needed do you think these sorts of supports are?
The need is definitely there. I hear things from clients like “I fell down the other day because I didn’t have anything to grip onto in my tub” or that they fell down their stairs because there wasn’t a railing. Elder falls is a high cause of admittance into a hospital, so we know that this is a huge need in the community. One client mentioned how something as simple as a toilet riser has made her life so much easier because her knees are really bad. These little things here and there make a big difference to people. She was so grateful for that and the other aging in place items we gave her. People are really, really grateful.
What’s your favorite thing about working with people in this capacity?
People on the reservation are really vocal about what they want and need. Which is great! Right now funding is limited so we can’t always give everyone who needs one a fully remodeled walk-in shower, but still, that meeting people one-on-one and getting to know them, that is what allows us to help make a home that works for them.
One recipient had recently gone through hip surgery, and she had a really high bathtub – and the second I walked in the door she was right on it- showing me everything she needed and telling me what was going on with her. Her son helped her set up all the aging in place items we gave her. She was actually shocked that we provided her with all the items she needed. When I went back to see her she was just effusive and so grateful- and showed us everything set up in her home. I mean, that’s amazing to be able to see that change firsthand in someone’s life.
Why does this work matter?
With elders, especially Native American elders, they’re very home-based. For the most part the homes they are living in now are the homes they’ve always known. So if they aren’t able to move around or do things in their homes, they obviously get really down. Its demoralizing. With these kits for elders, we are able to help them age in place comfortably. They are in their own homes, they can do things for themselves. They are still a part of their communities. All our recipients so far have been so grateful. We can’t always honor all their requests, but we do the best we can. A lot of elders live alone. The peace of mind for the family knowing they are safer in their homes also matters a lot. The positive feedback shows how great this program is. These little things truly matter.
What are your hopes and dreams for these initiatives? What would you love to provide for elders?
Money for ADA accessible walk-in showers! These are expensive, but people need them. I have noticed a bigger interest in this along with wheelchairs and walkers too. These items are expensive. I would love to have funding for these bigger cost/bigger impact items. This would definitely provide a positive impact in the lives of our clients. Being able to create a healthy and safe home is our vision and we are hoping to expand our outreach. I can’t wait to see the program grow!