Outreach program offers older adults free health assessments

Medical professionals from Washington University and Barnes-Jewish College of Nursing are helping older adults in underserved areas of St. Louis identify and address wide-ranging health problems — from osteoporosis and frailty to impaired physical function and depression.

The Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation is funding the program, called the Collaborative Assessments to Revitalize the Elderly in Our Community (CARE in our Community), for the next three years.

“This program grew out of a successful outreach program initiated in 2005 by the Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Science at Washington University School of Medicine,” says Consuelo H. Wilkins, M.D., an assistant professor at the School of Medicine and program director for the CARE program. “We have provided health assessments and/or interventions to more than 850 St. Louis seniors, primarily those who live in underserved housing complexes. With this funding, we plan to help even more.”

The data obtained from the initial outreach program found that impaired physical function caused by obesity, depressed mood and osteoporosis are major contributors to frailty and reduced quality of life. The new CARE in our Community program will visit community centers and senior living facilities to perform evaluations and interventions that focus on these areas of concern.

“We plan to develop and implement interventions to address several risk factors for frailty, and will be concentrating in particular on calcium and vitamin D deficiency, impaired physical function and depressed mood,” Wilkins says. “It’s very important to get health providers to these seniors because it’s difficult for many to get to the doctor’s office for standard medical care, and a large number of these people suffer with treatable problems that go undiagnosed.”

The CARE program also will seek funding from the federal government, as well as national and local foundations to improve and expand outreach efforts. This initial grant from the Barnes-Jewish Hospital Foundation provides the program with $275,000 annually for three years.

Washington University School of Medicine’s 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient care institutions in the nation, currently ranked fourth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.