FAIRMONT–Some local individuals are on a quest to make sure that seniors in Martin County can comfortably and safely stay in their homes longer. To help assist with this goal, the Schmeeckle Foundation has given $350,000 to be used on the Martin County CHW Project over the next three years.
Two initial driving forces behind the project are Dr. Tim Bachenberg and Pastor Russell Reimers
In Bachenberg’s practice, Manna Health, which he started about eight years ago, he visits people in area assisted living facilities.
Bachenberg said several years ago, he put together a board to look at the needs of the elderly people in the county. Reimers, who’s been a pastor at churches in Ceylon and Wilbert since 1993, is chair of the board as he has a lot of parishioners that could benefit from the board’s findings.
One of the initial things the board looked at was that there’s no service that delivers meals to those in rural areas of the county. They came up with an idea last year and submitted it to the Schmeeckle Foundation.
The Schmeeckle Foundation is a private family foundation serving Martin County. Its mission is to carry on the legacy of long-time Martin County resident, Juanita Ellen (Teubner) Schmeeckle, to provide grants for the betterment of Martin County.
The Foundation’s three core areas of focus are early childhood care and education, serving the disabled and elder and promoting the arts.
“They liked the idea because the big crux of it was to help older people stay in their own homes,” Bachenberg said.
The board was asked to re-submit an application and received help from Eric Snyder of Excelsior Bay Group, a firm that provides strategic and fundraising counsel to the nonprofit sector. Snyder has helped to address childcare issues in the area and he also played a hand in the creation of Apple Tree Dental.
The board ended up receiving a planning grant, worth about $15,000, from the Schmeeckle Foundation last summer.
What started as a plan to get meals into the homes of the elderly in the county has evolved. Reimers said they actually had to put the meal aspect on the back burner while they focus on getting other parts of the program started, but that they hope to incorporate that in further down the line.
Snyder said together with Bachenberg and Reimers, they found a firm in the metro, CHW Solutions, which does what they’re hoping to do in Martin County.
“They help communities develop and execute plans for integrating Community Health Workers into a community to help improve care for different populations,” Snyder said.
A new steering committee of the Martin County CHW Project was started and is filled with local stakeholders who have an interest in the topic. Many of them serve seniors living at home in some kind of capacity. Snyder said there are other state-wide players involved as well.
This includes representatives from Manna Health, Minnesota Department of Health, Blue Cross Blue Shield, Human Services, Mayo Clinic Health Systems, United Hospital District and other community members.
Snyder said a Community Health Worker is a public health worker type that’s relatively new. Minnesota was one of the first states to formalize and adopt the roles. He said there’s several accredited programs across the state.
The $350,000 grant is to develop a Community Health Worker project over the next three years. There will be one or two Community Health Workers who will go to the homes of those who are 65 and older and evaluate what needs to be done to keep them in the home, which involves combining the agencies that will help achieve that.
In the first year, Bachenberg said they need to find a Community Health Worker who wants to come to this area. He said there are several in the area but they work for the county so already have a job. Another option is to find someone who is interested in becoming a Community Health Worker and give them the training that’s needed.
CHW Solutions will train the individual and provide oversight so the person isn’t operating by themselves.
The goal would be to make the Community Health Worker an extension of the senior’s primary care team.
Snyder said if If Dr. Bachenberg has a patient who would like a visit, rather than go into town, the Community Health Worker could arrange a virtual visit from the individual’s kitchen table by using a laptop or tablet.
“The relationship would still be between the doctor and senior but the Community Health Worker can facilitate the visit and follow up and help answer questions,” Snyder said.
Bachenberg pointed out that there are other organizations in the area that do this type of work, like CREST and Hot Meals on Wheels, but that they tend to be busy and on tight budgets.
“The ultimate goal is to bring all of these groups together and help them communicate with one another as well as dealing with the elderly population,” Reimers said.
“The big thing is, we’re all getting older and the goal is to keep people in their home because they do better than if they’re moved into assisted living,” Reimers said.
Bachenberg pointed out that there are great assisted living facilities in the county. But for some, even after doing expansions, there’s still a waiting list.
“And the facilities want to have people there who need to be there,” Bachenberg said.
Snyder said the timing of the project is good because the biggest age bracket for Martin County is the 55 to 65 age range which means, while it’s already an older community, it hasn’t yet seen the biggest influx of seniors.
Shirley Maschoff, a trustee of the Schmeeckle Foundation, said this project fit right in line with the Foundation’s mission statement, which is “enriching lives through innovation and creative collaboration.”
“I know that Martin County has an aging population. I think this will be great help for our seniors and families. We’re also a very generational county and if you can help one generation, it ultimately helps the next one,” Maschoff said.
She said they also want people to know that they’re open to ideas and that people should should feel free to contact them.
The service won’t be available for about a year as it’s still in the planning process. Snyder said they’re working on putting together a job description for the Community Health Worker now and hope to have it posted in the next week or so.