Serving Older Residents? Needs Assessments Can Right-Size Services

Serving Older Residents? Needs Assessments Can Right-Size Services
Victoria Cotrell, Paula C. Carder
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As the population ages, multifamily property owners may find themselves looking for new tools to meet the needs of their older residents. Multidimensional needs assessment is an effective way to evaluate older residents’ needs and right-size services to a specific property’s population.

Lessons may be learned from the case of Cedar Sinai Park (CSP), a nonprofit with expertise in retirement living and long-term care. In furtherance of its mission to serve low-income older adults, CSP purchased a HUD-subsidized apartment building in Portland, Oregon, with more than 200 older residents. CSP aimed to facilitate aging in place by adding services. The services would need to be culturally acceptable by the residents, approximately 40% of whom are non-English speakers. Languages spoken in the building include Mandarin, Cantonese, Russian, Farsi, and Korean.

Before adding services, CSP worked with a university partner to explore two questions:

  1. What services would meet the most important mental, physical, and social needs of the residents as a group?
  2. What services would the residents support?

Major findings:

  • The building presented structural problems that led to falls and inaccessible areas for the mobility-impaired.
  • Most residents reported exercising and desired additional on-site resources to support physical activity.
  • 22% of residents appear to have cognitive functioning impairments, including memory loss.
  • Residents report inadequate social support networks and insufficient mental health support.
  • Medication management education or services may be needed, but not supported. Residents took an average of 5.4 medications. (In comparison, residents of licensed assisted living facilities take an average of 6 medications.) In general, residents did not have a strategy for taking multiple medications correctly and adopted alternative treatments without advising their physicians, however they did not believe they needed assistance with medication management.

Lessons learned:

  • Seek a university partner with a gerontology or geriatrics program for a triple win. University partnerships help housing providers plan their services more effectively, increase their capacity for services and assessment, and obtain external funds for evaluation efforts. The university partners benefit from the applied learning opportunities. And residents have more of the services they want and more resources for their health and social service questions.
  • Assessing needs can avoid costly mistakes. Needs assessments can focus resources onto the services most in demand and help with planning culturally- and age-sensitive services.
  • Screen residents for health risks. While few residents may be at risk of hospitalization or nursing home admission, addressing these risks early improves residents’ ability to age in place with a good quality of life and reduces costs for the healthcare system.