Housing Program Attempts to Fill the Healthcare Gap

Northwest Housing Alternatives brings groups of nursing students directly to residents' homes to provide basic preventive care, and connect them with other social services

Barbara Moss has lived at Weidler Commons, a northeast Portland apartment building for low-income seniors, since 2003. A Portland native who moved back after living in San Diego for several years, Moss describes herself as active, taking advantage of nearby TriMet lines to shop, run errands and attend community events. “I'm out and about every day.”

Moss has insurance through a Providence Medicare plan, and is in generally good health. But once a month, she heads to a community room in her building for regular checkups from a group of nursing students at Mt. Hood Community College. The students, with supervision from instructor David Dale, take vital signs and, more important, do basic foot care.

“I only come down when they're doing nails,” said fellow resident Donald Downey. Due to severe arthritis, Downey is unable to trim his own toe nails, and pedicures are too expensive for him.

Downey has insurance through Kaiser, and is happy with his care, but doctor's offices rarely perform services as basic as toenail trimmings or even foot exams, though there’s an increased push to prevent diabetic amputations and other complications that can result from a lack of basic foot care.

But Downey also comes to the events because they are an opportunity to visit with his neighbors. “It's a social hour as well.”

The visits are part of a partnership coordinated by the Northwest Housing Alternatives, which provides housing for low-income people, including seniors and adults with special needs. The income cap for Weidler Commons is $25,000, but most people earn less with the average two-person household pulling in $15,000 a year. The agency has increasingly been called to help residents navigate social services, including the healthcare system.

“A lot of calls we get from our residents are health related,” said Tim Collier, director of communication and resource development.

So the agency created a Resident Services department that began as an AmeriCorps position but has grown to a six person department that focuses on helping residents navigate the health care system so they can remain healthy and stable in their homes.  

Julia Doty is now the Resident Services Team Leader and reached out to Dale to arrange rotating visits to senior apartment buildings for students at Mt. Hood. Besides taking basic vitals such as blood pressure and blood sugar, students are taught to perform basic oral exams – since many seniors have dental problems and may lack adequate coverage. Dental cavities, left untreated, can lead to life-threatening infections in older adults.

“There's so many simple things that a nurse should be able to manage,” Dale said. Site manager Pat Sliger also arranges for nursing students from University of Portland to visit each month.

Northwest Housing Alternatives not only helps with medical needs, but connects residents to other services such as transportation.

Moss is so impressed with the services offered by Dale, she had nothing but praise for their work.

“I was so impressed with those young boys and young women, and he is such a good teacher. It's just amazing that they come right to your door.”

Christen can be reached at [email protected]

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