Serving Our Homebound Seniors
Each week the Athens Community Council on Aging (ACCA) and their 200 volunteers deliver over 1300 meals to over 300 homebound adults in Clarke and Barrow counties. Some of the clients are older adults that have difficulty getting out, and others are suffering from disabilities that prevent them from leaving their home. This service not only provides nutritious meals for these individuals, but the visits also serve as a safety check.
Many of ACCA’s clients are at an increased risk for medical emergencies, falls and other accidents. With transportation being the primary barrier to the outside world, doctor appointments are often overlooked.
As one of the few practicing geriatric physicians in the Athens area, Augusta University / University of Georgia faculty member, Dr. Don Scott was quick to recognize this growing problem after he began volunteering with the ACCA. He then reached out to Eve Anthony, Chief Executive Officer of the ACCA to see how he could help.
“I was thrilled when we re-connected with Dr. Scott,” said Anthony, “he immediately recognized the challenges we face as an organization for those clients who are experiencing health and wellness issues and the numerous meals on wheels clients who may not have a primary care provider.”
Recognizing a need
As the campus director of geriatrics and palliative care, Scott oversees the AU/UGA Medical Partnership Internal Medicine Residency program’s geriatrics rotation. In 2016 the idea was conceived to establish a partnership between the residency program and the ACCA. While on their geriatrics rotation, the residents, along with Scott, would make home visits to the Athens area Meals on Wheels clients. This partnership would enable the Meals on Wheels clients to see a healthcare professional in the comforts of their home, while allowing the residents to see patients in their home environment.
“My goal for the residents visiting the homebound clients is for the resident to understand what it means to be an older adult with needs within their own home,” said Scott. “Whether that need is primary care, or simply to adjust their walker rollator, we want to help the person out anyway we can. Most clients have a regular physician, but they often miss appointments or cannot make it due to transportation barriers.”
The ACCA recommends clients to Scott’s team based on the highest level of need. So far, the internal medicine residents and Scott have visited over 30 homebound individuals in the Athens area and delivered over $5000 of free care. Those numbers are continuing to grow.
The needs of the Meals on Wheels clients vary from adjusting their blood pressure medication, to organizing their prescription drugs, to helping them with proper dosages of their medications, and even providing home safety visits for those with mental health issues.
One of Scott’s favorite stories is about a woman who needed the brakes repaired on her rollator. He worked with a local bike shop to have them make that repair for her every few months. Another visit to led helping a woman get her dog to a veterinarian to receive care. The most recent client Scott visited was living in a home without running water and basic necessities. Scott is currently working with the ACCA and other local organizations to assist in moving the individual out of this environment.
When asked, the clients are very appreciative of Scott and the residents. Jacqueline Moses said, “I love having Dr. Scott visit. It is more personalized than a standard doctor’s appointment and he can help me understand the physician’s orders.”
For Scott, the reason for being there is simple, “before leaving, I always ask the client what can we do to improve your quality of life,” he said.
This objective of having the residents visit homebound adults is for them to develop an increased empathy for older adults and the frailty they may face. Going in these households gives the residents a new perspective compared to when they only see patients in an office setting and allows them to catch a glimpse of the challenges they may face at home.
Second year resident, Rida Younus says, “I have learned a lot from this rotation, especially in terms of what poverty really looks like and the sometimes, unfortunately, terrible conditions that patients are living in, the hurdles they have to go through to even make their way to the office to see us. All these things make you appreciate what you already have and make you want to make your patient’s life easier and provide them with all the right resources in the community that they may actually be unaware of.”
This rotation also allows the resident physicians to see to how their treatment plan impacts the patient. Younus continues, “This benefits the physician because it helps us truly access the patient as a whole, to not only address their medical needs but also their living conditions, which may sometimes make it hard for them to follow through with discussed plans in the office.”
Anthony says, “through this partnership we are teaching a new group of physicians that have a greater understanding of the issues facing older adults.”
In recognition of his hard work, Scott and the AU/UGA Internal Medicine Residency Program were awarded the 2018 ACCA’s Community Partner of the Year award.
This award was created to recognize an outstanding community partner who has worked along ACCA in moving their mission forward. As an agency, the ACCA acknowledges it cannot meet the Athens community’s needs alone and recognizes they can do more when aligning their mission with others who share those same goals.
When asked about Scott, Anthony said, “Dr. Scott has gone above and beyond to make himself a resource for our clients. His willingness to work with individuals through unusual circumstances allows ACCA to better serve their clients. He is a truly great ally to have in our corner.”