The Westbrook Housing Authority (WHA) and the University of New England Center for Excellence in Aging & Health (UNE CEAH) have signed a memorandum of understanding to establish a three-year, multi-phase student placement and research partnership serving seniors aging in place in affordable housing, made possible by a $20,000 grant generously provided by Gorham Savings Bank.
Through this partnership, UNE and WHA aim to demonstrate “proof of concept” for future collaborations between medical universities and local housing authorities serving low-income populations, which often lack ready access to quality medical and dental care.
Under the agreement, UNE will place clinical students from the dental medicine, dental hygiene, physical therapy, and social work programs at the Westbrook Housing Authority, where they will provide free or reduced-cost, faculty-supervised care visits with senior residents. The program will be open to all senior residents living in any of Westbrook Housing’s fifteen apartment complexes, which collectively serve 638 households. By bringing services directly to low-income seniors, the program will reduce the physical and financial burdens of traveling to certain health appointments. At the same time, UNE students will gain practical clinical and research experience while making a tremendous positive impact on the lives of aging Mainers.
“Our partnership with the University of New England is based on a mutual understanding of and respect for aging Mainers,” said Chris LaRoche, Executive Director of the Westbrook Housing Authority. “This important funding from Gorham Savings will further help our residents to live healthy, independent lives so they may safely age in place. Mobility is often one of the biggest challenges, and by partnering with UNE, we can bring world-class medical, dental, physical therapy and social work services to our residents right at home while supporting the very research on aging that will improve our understanding of seniors’ specific housing needs.”
To administer the program, UNE will locate a satellite office of its Center for Excellence in Aging & Health at WHA’s newly renovated Larrabee Woods facility, which will serve as the collaboration’s central hub. Due to the active COVID-19 pandemic, the program is expected to launch with virtual-only visits until deemed safe by public health officials. In October 2020, WHA opened a new telehealth suite in Larrabee Woods to accommodate remote medical appointments for residents.
“Despite the challenges of this pandemic, Westbrook Housing’s invitation to join together and create meaningful services for residents could not have come at a better time, as many of our professional disciplines are reimagining how they can best prepare students to provide excellent care for their future patients,” said Dr. Tom Meuser, PhD., Founding Director of the UNE CEAH and Professor of Social Work. “While specific clinics and placements are still in their formative stages, I see great potential for a truly interdisciplinary outreach satellite linking students and faculty from all of our colleges.”
Dr. Meuser is a Clinical Psychologist, an Applied Gerontologist, and a Fellow of the Gerontological Society of America.
“As a longtime supporter of Westbrook Housing Authority, Gorham Savings Bank is proud to play a small part in this innovative partnership which we believe will have a tremendously positive impact for both students and residents,” said Steve deCastro, president and CEO of Gorham Savings Bank.