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Nursing partnership helps older adults stay healthy, happy

Published May 7, 2019

It’s a Thursday morning, and that means it’s time for Gwen Henning to have visitors.

Nursing students Raquel Cable and Diana Chan sit on Henning’s couch while she rests in a pink chair. The visit isn’t entirely social, though. Cable and Chan’s clinical-looking white jackets signify that they are here for Henning’s health – but they will do more than check on her physical needs.

Henning, 93, lives at Leisure World Seal Beach, a community for older adults. Cable and Chan found Henning through the Pathways Care Navigation Program, a unique collaboration designed to help older adults stay healthy and safe while remaining independent in their own home. Enjoying the boons of companionship in later life is an important outcome.

“Having somebody come over, just helping me out a little bit has just meant so much to me,” Henning said. “They check my pills each time and make sure I’m doing it right. It’s just been a godsend to me, really. I look forward to Thursdays more than anything.”

A partnership between Long Beach State’s School of Nursing, Pathways Volunteer Hospice, a Lakewood nonprofit, and Meals on Wheels Long Beach makes visits such as these possible. Archstone Foundation, a private nonprofit grant organization whose mission is to prepare society in meeting the needs of an aging population, awarded more than $400,000 to Pathways in March 2018 to support the Care Navigation Program over three years.

“With many individuals over age 65 wanting to live in their homes and communities, creating committed collaborative approaches and models that enable them to do so is an important role that community-based organization, academic institutions, and health care providers can undertake together,” said Jolene Fassbinder, program officer for Archstone Foundation.

How it works:

Meals on Wheels Long Beach refers clients requesting home-delivered meals to Pathways Volunteer Hospice, which provides oversight and case management. Pathways also assigns clients to the nursing students, who then conduct home visits.

The Care Navigation Team Members ensure their clients’ homes are clean and safe, and assess how well a given client is living on their own before creating a personal care plan. Clients then can receive interventions and help in a variety of forms, such as volunteer companionship, chronic illness education or medicine management.

“The goal is to help them remain safe and independent in their own home,” Pathways Executive Director Cindy Skovgard said.

Nursing students accumulate clinical practice hours while making in-home visits. There’s more to a relationship than strictly clinical matters, though.

“One of the things that older adults like, and some of the younger people like about the visits are, they like a new person to listen to their life stories,” said Dr. Phyllis Cooper, a full-time School of Nursing lecturer instructing Cable and Chan.

Meals on Wheels Long Beach serves about 400 older adults each year, and a little more than half lack social interactions beyond their Meals on Wheels visits. Human contact is a vital help to the partnership’s clients, Executive Director Bill Cruikshank said.  

“I think number one and foremost, is socialization,” he said, identifying how the partnership helps older adults mitigate the health risks of social isolation. “Just providing someone to talk to a visitor.”

Long Beach State is also home to the Center for Successful Aging, which supports research and education for the benefit of the Long Beach area’s older population.

“This collaboration is part of the important work going on throughout the College of Health and Human Services and community partners to prepare the workforce for the care and service of older adults”, Dr. Iveris Martinez, Archstone Foundation Endowed Chair in Gerontology and director of the Center for Successful Aging, said.

At Henning’s home, Chan said in-home visits have helped her learn how to serve older patients; Cable said personal interactions provide a better understanding of a client’s individuality than just discussing medical needs.

“It’s just getting to know someone more, on a personal level,” Cable said. “It’s deeper information than what you get in the hospital.”

And that’s something that helps both older adults and the new generation of nurses.