CHEER Inc. was recently awarded a grant by the Administration for Community Living, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, for projects that will enhance the quality, effectiveness and outcomes of nutrition services programs provided by the national aging services network.

Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons were in Milford on Oct. 25 to announce the $750,000 grant award. Sussex County’s home-bound seniors will benefit from this highly competitive grant award program which can serve as a model for the rest of the state and country.

Carper told the gathering in Milford that only seven grants in the country were funded by the ACT. He congratulated all involved with CHEER’s application for scoring the highest in the nation.

In summer 2018, CHEER joined in partnership with Nationwide Health Services to develop a grant proposal that would help to bring wellness checks with appropriate medical follow-up to recipients of homebound meals in Sussex County. In September, CHEER was informed that it was one of seven nonprofit organizations across the country to receive funding this year under the Federal Innovations in Nutrition Program.

In collaboration with Nationwide Health Services, LaRed Health Services, the University of Delaware, along with the State Division of Services for Aging and Adults with Physical Disabilities and United Health Care, the three-year project, led by CHEER, will establish what is known as a “medical home for CHEER homebound meal recipients.”

“A lot of times we address just the symptoms of the problem,” said Carper. “One of the great things about this grant is the ability to focus more on root causes. Not only if they’re just hungry, or not only if they’re just lonely, but if they’re having some kind of a medical issue that needs some attention. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful idea. And we get to kind of pioneer this for the country.”

The new program is called “We Care.” The medical home service model is a comprehensive patient centered team approach to providing wellness and delivering primary care for individuals. Persons receiving homebound meals through CHEER will be able to get regular and ongoing wellness checks at no cost to them with the delivery of their homebound meal. A simple and short medical screening survey is being developed that will allow trained CHEER staff and volunteers to perform a quick couple minutes wellness check right in the homes of each Meals on Wheel recipient.

Seniors will be asked a brief series of yes/no and multiple choice questions by their meal delivery person. The answers will be tapped into a Smart Phone by the trained meal delivery person. The information will be automatically relayed to a medical practitioner who will review and monitor the information for possible indicators that any adverse health-related issue may be developing. If no medical concerns are evident, the medical practitioner will just continue to monitor the data and no further action will be taken.

In the event that the medical practitioner does detect an indicator of an actual or developing medical concern, that practitioner can contact patients directly to make them aware of the concern. The medical practitioner will also be available to communicate with personal or primary care physicians. For those without a primary care physician, the medical practitioner can make referrals and help set up an appointment with a qualified medical professional. In addition, participants in this program can receive regular reminders of other medical services which they may be eligible for, such as annual physicals.

“It’s not a home health aide, but it’s the best eyes and ears that we’ve got by connecting with hundreds of seniors who want to live at home as long as possible,” said Coons. “This program is a remarkable partnership that will help seniors in Sussex County age gracefully in healthily, peaceful and respectful ways.”

Delaware’s senior population is growing both numerically and proportionately through a combination of aging and migration of retirees from other states. In Sussex County, the catchment area for this program, 44%of the population is expected to be 55 or older by 2035, particularly in coastal Sussex “a naturally occurring retirement community with limited support for seniors,” according to an article by Lynn Parks in Delaware Beach Life, April 2019 titled, “No Place Like Home: Area Services and Volunteers Enable Senior Citizens to ‘Age in Place’.”

The “We Care” program will capitalize on the potential of hundreds of dedicated volunteers who currently provide home delivered meals and friendly visiting services to homebound elderly. These volunteers will be trained and mobilized to serve as the front line “eyes and ears” who can flag crisis before they occur through referrals to a professional medically trained We Care coordinator.

“CHEER is being proactive in offering this free benefit to its Meals on Wheels recipients,” said Ken Bock, CHEER Chief Executive Officer. “The ‘We Care’ Wellness Check will help to minimize illness and health crises and reduce required emergency room visits and more invasive health treatments.”

Nationwide Health Services will review the information for any health and red flags or trending that could benefit from medical intervention. The care coordinator will then relay information to appropriate health care professionals for follow-up.