Meals on Wheels to study health, safety screenings

Meals On Wheels of Sheboygan County announced that it will be participating in a two-year research program to investigate opportunities to improve the general health and wellbeing of homebound seniors by integrating health and safety screenings into daily meal delivery services.

The research program is part of a collaboration between the Gary and Mary West Health Institute, Meals on Wheels America and a research group in the Brown University Center for Gerontology and Healthcare Research. The research will be taking place in the following cities:

Cambridge, OHIO – Guernsey County Senior Citizens Center

Fort Worth, TEXAS – Meals on Wheels of Tarrant County

Raleigh, NC. – Meals on Wheels of Wake County

San Diego, CAL. – Meals on Wheels of Greater San Diego, Inc.

Sheboygan – Fresh Meals of Sheboygan County

Westwood, NJ. – Pascack Valley Meals on Wheels

Fresh Meals on Wheels of Sheboygan County volunteers visit with senior clients daily and are often the only person a senior will see in a day.

With 9.6 million seniors in this country facing the threat of hunger, and 15.2 million living alone in isolation, the Meals on Wheels staff and volunteers build important relationships with meal recipients and are usually the first person to observe health status changes that could lead to more serious issues, and to routinely report any issues to caregivers or healthcare providers.

The aim of this two-year program, called More Than a Meal Phase 3, is to standardize reporting mechanisms and improve communication with healthcare providers to prevent an adverse health event.

The assessment will help identify health, safety and social needs such as loneliness, depression or fall risk. By providing volunteers with simple screening tools and user-friendly technology, the study is designed to improve care coordination across the medical and home community, informing providers and caregivers of changing conditions before a potentially catastrophic health event occurs.

“Our More Than a Meal research series with Brown University continues to reinforce the holistic value of Meals on Wheels,” said Ellie Hollander, President and CEO of Meals on Wheels America.

“It is our hope that Phase 3 will enable us to rigorously understand and continue to validate the extended benefits of crossing the threshold into a client’s home on their overall health and quality of life.”

“Meal delivery is an essential support for homebound seniors, providing a vital lifeline to the outside world for these individuals and we believe the Meals on Wheels staff and volunteers can also be a critical link into the healthcare system, bringing to light possible health, wellness and safety needs,” said Shelley Lyford, president and CEO of the West Health Institute and Gary and Mary West Foundation.

“By researching how we can coordinate and extend the ability of the drivers to monitor the health and well-being of clients, we hope to identify new ways to improve the lives of seniors through the people that may be one of their only connections to the outside world.”

Meals on Wheels America has been an important collaborator with the West Health Institute and Gary and Mary West Foundation, which in February announced a $200,000 grant to conduct a retrospective review of the demographic and associated healthcare information of Meals on Wheels recipients to gain insight on the program’s health benefits to Medicare recipients as part of the More Than a Meal Phase 2 study.

“This program provides an opportunity to further analyze the impact that home-delivered meals can have on the health and well-being of older adults,” said gerontologist Kali Thomas, assistant professor (research) of Health Services, Policy and Practice in the Brown University School of Public Health.

“In the data we have gathered in earlier phases we have found important benefits of home-delivered meals beyond just nutrition. As we continue this research, it is important to have the support of organizations like the West Health Institute and Gary and Mary West Foundation that understand the significance of the connection between Meals on Wheels programs and the people they serve.”

Meals On Wheels of Sheboygan County, Inc. is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to addressing isolation and hunger.

It is the first home-delivered meal program in the nation to significantly partner with local farmers and gardeners who donate fresh fruits, vegetables and herbs to be integrated into meals.

Fresh produce ensures Meals On Wheels can continue to serve the highest quality and most nutritious meals, along with caring social interaction, to more than 300 residents.

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