Westchester leads chronic diseases initiative

The Mid-Hudson Valley Region’s kick-off meeting for the new federal program to teach older Americans how to manage their chronic health conditions to have a better quality of life, continue to live in their homes as they age and lower their health care costs took place recently at the Esplanade Luxury Senior Residence in White Plains.

Westchester County’s Department of Senior Programs and Services (DSPS) has been selected as the lead agency for the seven-county region, which also includes Dutchess, Orange, Putnam, Rockland, Sullivan and Ulster counties. DSPS will administer the program with the Westchester Public/Private Partnership for Aging Services.

The federal Chronic Disease Management Program was started in March by $27 million in grants from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. The New York State Office for the Aging received almost $1.2 million.

The “Living Well Livable Communities Program” is the name of the two-year initiative in the Mid-Hudson region. U.S. Census Bureau statistics indicate that there are an estimated 327,525 people over 60 in the Mid-Hudson Valley region who have one or more chronic conditions. The grant will be able to serve up to 580 seniors with chronic diseases who volunteer to take part in the “Living Well” program, which is expected to start in November.

Chronic conditions include heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other lung diseases, diabetes and arthritis. The “Living Well” program will empower seniors with these conditions about how to control them through increased physical activity and exercise, changes in their diets, managing sleep and fatigue, using medications correctly and communicating with health care providers.

In coming weeks, the program will set up an advisory council, and market the program through AARP chapter meetings, civic and service organizations, houses of worship and aging networks. From this outreach, program leaders hope to recruit about 20 “master trainer” volunteers for the entire region, who, in turn, will train “lay/peer” volunteers to work with the seniors. The six-week training program will be held for 2 ½ hours per week, and a health care background is not required to take part.

Even though the seniors will learn how to self-manage their chronic conditions, they are encouraged, of course, see their regular health care providers at any time.

DSPS Commissioner Mae Carpenter hailed the initiative, saying it empowers seniors and blends seamlessly with the goals of DSPS’ Livable Community Villages where neighbors helping neighbors and aging in place are ways of life.

“This program can be transforming for seniors,” Carpenter said. “It will give them greater self-control over their day-to-day lives and a new zest for an enriched life. Also, they will feel that they are less of a burden on other family members if they’re able to manage their chronic diseases and keep flare-ups and incidents under control.”

Carpenter said caregivers will benefit because if their loved ones can help to manage their chronic conditions, they should be able to handle their many other responsibilities in a more efficient and less stressful manner.

“And this program will also be of tremendous value to taxpayers because it will cut health care costs – especially readmissions to the hospital,” Carpenter said.

Agencies and organizations looking to partner with DSPS in the Living Well Livable Communities Program include AARP, New York Connects, RSVP, the Westchester County Department of Health, the county’s Livable Communities Connection sites, the Westchester Medical Center, faith-based institutions and civic and service organizations.

DSPS is also looking for venues to hold the training sessions such as health care facilities, offices of non-profit organizations, houses of worship and other locations.

Carpenter told seniors that one of the most important messages of the “Living Well” program is to remind seniors that they are not alone.

“There’s help out there,” she said. “You owe it to yourself and your loved ones to reach out for it. Be all that you can be.”

For more information and to volunteer to take part in the Living Well Livable Communities Program, contact Dozene Guishard, project coordinator, at DSPS at (914) 813-6407 or [email protected]

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