Innovative partnerships enable seniors to stay alive and healthy, as demonstrated by the senior residents of three Chicago Housing Authority (CHA) buildings who participated in the annual “Check. Change. Control.” program sponsored by the American Heart Association (AHA). Over the last five years since the program began, about half of the participants’ blood pressure has been lowered and there has been a 60 percent retention rate.  This year, however, the Year of the Senior, there was a 77 percent retention rate. This is primarily attributed to the program’s focus on cultural minorities. Through CHA directors and their health partnerships, CHA remains dedicated to the health and engagement of its residents.

Andy Teitelman, the Director of Senior Services and Health Initiatives at CHA, provided some insight into the program’s success and their partnership with the AHA. “We’re always looking for strong partners for seniors,” he says. “Health partners that can help teach seniors tips on keeping themselves healthy and being able to live a good quality of life, that’s the kind of partner we look for. AHA is a great example of that.” According to the leaders of CHA, AHA is truly meeting the standard of the CHA tagline, “Live well. Live fully.”

A health demo presented to senior residents by the American Heart Association.

Recently, CHA and AHA have made it a point to bring their focus to minority groups of seniors living in public housing, which directors think largely contributed to the program’s record retention rate. Teitelman states that, “AHA has shown that different cultures have different rates of high blood pressure and diabetes that contribute to heart disease.” With an additional Hispanic building, along with the program being added in Spanish, the program is able to more specifically target and address health issues in CHA seniors.

In addition to the effort of the seniors who partake in the program, the staff and directors also contribute to the program’s success. “Seniors must show up every two weeks, have their blood pressure checked, and learn new things about nutrition and exercise,” says Teitelman.

This requirement follows the directive of CHA CEO Gene Jones, Jr. for the staff and residents to “really get out there and engage with the residents.”

Santos Torres and Maria Gonzalez from Apartamentos Las Americas.

Molly Sullivan, CHA director of communications, says, “maintaining a high level of resident engagement with seniors, with family, with everyone” is one of Jones’ number one goals. It’s this strong level of commitment that has helped this program grow so much. “We think that it’s [the program’s success] largely owed to this growing sense of awareness that they [senior residents] have about how engaged we are with them and they are with us,” Sullivan says.

When it comes to other health partnerships, the CHA directors of senior residents have specific criteria. With up to 60 health partners, including an ongoing partnership with the Chicago Department of Public Health and the Respiratory Health Association with a large focus on smoking and asthma and hundreds of events every quarter, CHA directors recently developed a health partnership application process. This was done to set guidelines and goals, and to determine what organizations would “be the most helpful to residents and protect them from overselling and fraud,” says Teitelman. Even more recently, CHA implemented on April 1, 2017, a satisfaction questionnaire,  which is given to residents each time someone comes to give a small lecture or workshop for their particular organization. “We want to work with organizations that will help our residents with quality of life and [that give residents] enough knowledge to seek medical care appropriately,” Teitelman says.

Santrice Martin (left) and Andy Teitelman (right) celebrate with resident.

In over five years, close to 300 people have completed the “Check. Change. Control.” program. It’s helped to send out the message that a healthy lifestyle and regular exercise is possible no matter one’s age. Exercise doesn’t have to mean going to the gym. Senior residents can even exercise sitting on a chair doing leg raises or doing yoga moves at home. Teitelman states, “We’re a housing authority that wants to help our people live well and live fully. We’re pleased with how things have started in these first few years.”   

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