SASH in Rhode Island
New program at WWHA aims to keep residents at home
By Kendra Gravelle, The Kent County Daily Times
WEST WARWICK — With its recent implementation of a new wellness initiative, the West Warwick Housing Authority is hoping to provide residents of its two locations with the resources they need to age in place.
The Support and Services at Home, or “SASH,” program is designed to keep those who live independently healthy in all aspects so they may remain living at home for as long as possible, Denise Aguiar explained.
“The long-term goal is to keep people in their homes and their apartments, where they’re theoretically the happiest and healthiest, for as long as possible,” Aguiar, the housing authority’s SASH coordinator, said of the program. “Everybody does better at home.”
Participants in the voluntary program work with Aguiar and an onsite wellness nurse, Patricia Smith, to develop a healthy-living plan based on a series of self-defined goals.
Housing authority residents who enroll are first given assessments in areas like social wellness and physical, mental and behavioral health to identify how, specifically, SASH could benefit them.
“I take a look at what’s going on in their lives that’s going well, and at what maybe they could use some support around,” said Aguiar, who then coordinates with partner organizations to provide that support.
The assessment results are used to guide participants in developing their healthy-living plans.
“So if someone wants to lower their A1C score, if they have diabetes, then we try to help with that,” Aguiar added by way of example.
The way she sees it, participating in SASH is a “no-lose situation.”
“The program is what the individual makes of it,” added Aguiar, who splits her time between West Warwick Manor and Clyde Tower. “They can get as much or as little out of it as they want.”
While some SASH participants meet weekly with her, Aguiar said, others keep the program in their back pockets to use when something comes up.
“They may have diabetes or high blood pressure but they feel like they’re managing well,” Aguiar said. “They may want to use the program as sort of a safety net — someone who they can call and say, ‘this has changed, what can you do to help me?’”
Aguiar said she’s seen a number of success stories from residents enrolled in SASH since the program was launched at the West Warwick Housing Authority in early May.
One participant, whose days had lacked structure, needed something to fill her time with. After working with the resident to determine what services her insurance would cover, Aguiar found an adult day program for her to join.
Another resident has begun frequenting the YMCA for exercise; someone else, who had been overdue for a doctor’s appointment due to transportation difficulties, was finally able to see his doctor after a ride was arranged for him.
“A lot of the successes revolve around people getting help in the home that they didn’t even know they were eligible for,” Aguiar added, noting that many don’t realize what’s covered under their health plans.
While SASH helps residents on an individual basis — whether by helping them manage their chronic conditions, connecting them with services to meet their various goals, or helping them navigate their health insurance plans — it also offers wellness workshops, social activities, educational events and more.
Data from the individual assessments is pooled — used to determine how many residents have diabetes, for example, or how many are at high risk of falling — and group programming is designed based on residents’ top needs.
At Clyde Tower, for example, classes are currently being offered to educate people on reducing their fall risks.
Another recent series of events focused on managing diabetes, based on the number of residents living with the condition.
For Stephen O’Rourke, executive director of the West Warwick Housing Authority, it was its assessment tools that drew him to the SASH program, created in 2009 by a nonprofit housing organization in Vermont.
“They’re extensive,” he said of the assessments.
In fact, O’Rourke said, when SASH first approached him about bringing the program to the housing authority, it was because the agency had already been offering some of the same services that SASH does.
The housing authority’s resident services department has long worked hard to plan events aimed at improving residents’ quality of life. But while it did a good job organizing parties and group activities, the department wasn’t equipped to tend to the needs of individual residents in the way that Aguiar and Smith now do.
“That was a weakness in the resident services department,” O’Rourke said.
SASH will free up the resident services department to organize more group activities, O’Rourke added — the housing authority last year offered more than 100 activities, ranging from health seminars to high tea.
O’Rourke also appreciates the SASH program’s mission to deliver care and support that will help participants “live out their days in the location of their choosing,” according to the program’s website.
“When we have people who need to leave to go to a nursing home, we lose a tenant,” O’Rourke said.
And turning over units can be costly to the organization, he added.
“We try to keep them living in place,” he continued.
Since early May, 43 of the housing authority’s approximately 275 residents have enrolled in the program.
Aguiar has been working on reaching out to individual tenants to let them know about SASH. But those who are interested in enrolling or who would like to learn more about the free program can also reach out to her by calling (401)822-9430 ext. 313, or by sending an email to Daguiar@WestWarwickHA.org.
Friends and family members are also invited to contact Aguiar to request that she get in touch with their loved ones at the housing authority.
“As long as someone is willing to engage in the program,” she said, “I’m happy to assist in any way that I can.”