Senior support worker connects older adults with resources

Avesta Housing has created a new staff role to safeguard housing stability for older adults living in our properties. This “senior support specialist” will provide one-on-one support to senior residents with mental health issues who are struggling with day-to-day tasks necessary for independent living. The program’s goal is to ensure residents receive the help they need before a crisis develops, enabling them to maintain an independent lifestyle for as long as possible.

The senior support specialist is a trained professional contracted through Maine Behavioral Healthcare who will meet regularly with senior residents to help Avesta Housing resident service coordinators (RSCs) identify those who need additional resources, such as support with housekeeping, medication management, and coping skills to deal with social isolation. The senior support worker and RSCs will then connect those residents to the appropriate resources.

Numerous studies have shown that unless there is a safe, clean space for someone to call home, the likelihood of them having access to food, staying on top of their medical needs, and developing meaningful social interactions is remote. When a person has a mental illness, these issues can be compounded. Avesta provides safe, clean, affordable homes to over 1,500 adults ages 55 and older with an average annual income of less than $18,000 per year.

Although an employee of Maine Behavioral Healthcare, the senior support specialist will work exclusively at Avesta Housing properties. This makes the position the first of its kind in Maine and could provide a template for other affordable housing agencies in the state, explained Nicholas Kjeldgaard, resident service manager with Avesta Housing.

“Many seniors in Avesta Housing communities are experiencing some level of mental illness, and wait lists for assisted living and nursing homes are long. Those options are also very expensive,” Kjeldgaard said. “We wanted to create a program that would keep people in housing longer by either supporting the residents directly or providing more support for the RSCs. It’s a win for the staff, and more importantly, it’s a win for the residents.”

The senior support specialist will primarily operate in Avesta properties located in rural communities that lack readily available resources. It was patterned after Avesta’s Homeless to Housing program, in which a caseworker provides support to formerly homeless residents living in Avesta communities.

Initial funding is provided by Avesta’s Silver Hearth Fund, a $2 million fundraising campaign dedicated to providing affordable housing and services to older adults in Maine. If the senior support specialist program proves successful, Avesta will apply for additional funding via grants and other means to continue funding the position and possibly expand the program.

The senior support specialist is just one of many resources funded by the Silver Hearth Fund that are helping Maine’s senior residents live in affordable housing with the quality of life and dignity that they deserve.

“Older residents sometimes need support in identifying and accessing the services they require to maintain their health and housing stability,” Kjeldgaard said. “The Silver Hearth Fund builds capacity for Avesta’s resident service coordinators to connect frequently with those residents, which helps to ensure that they’re living with the utmost dignity, health, safety, and happiness.”