Valley Cares in Townshend hosts free federal program

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TOWNSHEND >> Valley Cares is known for providing much-needed housing for seniors in the West River Valley area.

But the Townshend nonprofit's latest venture is geared toward helping those who are still living in their own homes. The free, federally-funded program is called SASH, and administrators are encouraging Medicare-eligible residents to sign up for services such as wellness education, dietary counseling and medication reconciliation.

"Ultimately, the goal is to help people stay independent and in their home as long as possible," said Alicia Moyer, the new SASH coordinator at Valley Cares.

SASH stands for Support and Services at Home. It is available to those who are 65 and older and those with disabilities, and its three main goals are listed on www.sashvt.org, a website detailing the program's activities in Vermont:

— Preventative health care and services coordination.

— Education and coaching, especially relating to chronic health problems such as diabetes and arthritis.

— Transition support after a stay at a hospital, nursing home or rehabilitation facility.

The initiative has had success across Vermont, and that includes a busy Brattleboro SASH chapter that last year earned a visit and praise from U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt. Now, SASH has expanded again: Funding for the new program at Valley Cares began April 1.

"We felt very fortunate that we were picked," said Susanne Shapiro, Valley Cares executive director.

Valley Cares is partnering with nearby Grace Cottage Hospital to offer the SASH program; in fact, Moyer has an office at both locations. Other partners included the Visiting Nurse Association, Senior Solutions and Health Care & Rehabilitation Services.

Getting all of those organizations together is one of SASH's purposes.

"We want to be sure that we don't duplicate services, but enhance each other's efforts," Shapiro said.

SASH providers also want to enhance the quality of life for those residents who participate. There are a variety of services including access to a wellness nurse who offers check-ins and individualized assistance.

For example, "the wellness nurse can come in and help reconcile different medications," Shapiro said. "We see that we can potentially help catch medication errors."

There also is a focus on prevention and healthy living. Those are valuable, often-overlooked services, and they also have helped show the value of SASH — which is, perhaps, one reason the federal government has extended funding for the program to 2015 and 2016.

"SASH has, over time, proven that people have fewer falls and less revisits to the emergency room," Shapiro said. "This has proven, with some really clear indicators, that it saves real Medicare dollars."

Moyer is emphasizing that the program is free and confidential, and she wants West River Valley residents who qualify for SASH to see it simply as an extension of Medicare. "It's something," she says, "that could be put in place and be available to them as a safety net."

The new SASH program can handle about 100 participants, and it is expected to serve a number of towns including Townshend, Newfane, Brookline, Grafton, Athens and Jamaica. Anyone who wants more information can contact Moyer at 802-365-3753 on Mondays and Wednesdays or 802-365-4115, ext. 108 on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

In her relatively short time on the job, Moyer also has been making visits throughout the West River Valley in an effort to get the word out about SASH.

"I think, to some degree, it's going to be word of mouth," she said.

Administrators believe, however, that there is a clear need for SASH in the West River Valley.

"We know that this area of the state is aging even faster than the rest of the state," said Becca Schaefer, Valley Cares outreach director. "And we're rural. There's a concern that people are not getting the services they need when they're living out on their own, and they're isolated."

Contact Mike Faher at 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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