Healthcare and Housing Coalesce to Help Those Suffering from Chronic Health Problems

Rutland Regional Medical Center (RRMC) and NeighborWorks of Western Vermont (NWWVT) are partnering to support patients in creating healthy homes.

Doctors, nurses, and case managers at RRMC have a unique perspective on Rutland County residents’ needs. The medical staff witnesses the health challenges, and also the environmental impediments to improved health. They are seeking a way to help their patients continue to heal once they have left the hospital.

NWWVT actively supports Rutland County residents with home repair assistance, alternative lending programs, financial and homeownership counseling, neighborhood renovation, and real estate services. The organization is always seeking ways to identify Vermonters who will benefit from the non-profit services available.

Match made.

In April of 2016, the two organizations came together to create a collaborative program that leverages both organizations’ skills and perspectives, and aims to help patients recover from illness in a healthy home. The program is called the Healthy Homes Initiative.

The Healthy Homes Initiative recognizes that in order for patients to heal, they need to be able to return to or live in a home that supports their health and well-being.  Often patients do not have the time, resources, or experience to make changes on their own. NWWVT will provide patients with lending and financial assistance, project management, and contracting resources to complete work to make the home healthy.

Why does the program make sense?

On Monday, May 16th, the team at NWWVT and members of RRMC participated in a work group run by Ellen Tohn of Tohn Environmental with the focus on the impact of environmental changes on the health of asthma and COPD patients. Included in this workgroup were statistics on the incidence of asthma in the US and in Vermont. The state of Vermont has the third highest per capita rate of asthma in the country.

For asthma patients, the data is showing that it is what happens after a patient leaves the doctor’s office that has the greatest effect on long-term health. According to the Center for Disease Control, the top asthma triggers are: tobacco smoke, dust mites, outdoor air pollution, bug allergens, mold, wood smoke, and pets.*  In addition, the National Center for Healthy Housing states that the presence of rodents in a home can trigger asthma attacks.

The data shared by Ellen Tohn and available via the CDC further supports the basic premise that the health of the home has a significant impact on the health of the residents, particularly those dealing with chronic health concerns.

This new data will help to inform the decisions that are made about what elements in a home are most important to repair first in order to impact the health of the residents.

How does the Healthy Homes Initiative work?

The medical staff at RRMC and the Community Health Team will identify patients who can could benefit from home repairs due to their specific health concerns. High-profile candidates are those who suffer from asthma or COPD, and require home changes to support their improved health.

Changes for air quality can include simple updates such as replacing carpets, to more complex changes that address home heating and energy efficiency measures. The program is data-driven and will make changes based on the best method to improve home safety and health for the individual patient and other residents in the home.

In addition, patients who have access issues within their homes are likely to be good candidates. An access issue might include adding a ramp to the outside of the home, or widening doors for access to bathrooms or kitchen. Often, patients are ready to return home but cannot, due to structural challenges within the home. This program seeks to quickly and easily rectify these problems so that patients can recuperate in the comfort of their home.

Home audit identifies areas for repair

Once a patient has been identified, a NWWVT staff member will arrange a home audit and provide a report that identifies the high-priority items, and the associated costs for repairs.

Financial counseling and assistance

Based on the audit results, a NWWVT financial counselor will help the patient, patient’s family, or landlord to apply for available grant and loan funds. The Healthy Homes Initiative has pilot funding available for both grants and low interest loans through RRMC and the Bowsees Healthcare Trust.  Candidates for this program will receive assistance in accessing these funds as well as any state or Federal funds that are applicable.

Project management and recommended contractors

NWWVT will recommend contractors and NWWVT Home Repair team member will act as project manager throughout the process.  All recommended and implemented changes to the home will be communicated to the homeowner and to the RRMC resources.

Because this is the pilot period for this program, the early program candidates will help to influence the long-term success of the program. Measurements will be in place to ensure that the changes support greater health and that the program is handled in such a way that participants maintain control over the home and any decisions made therein.

RRMC and NWWVT are excited to help address chronic health concerns for local residents and bring this new insight into action for the Rutland County community.

For more information on this program, please contact NWWVT here.

-Ludy