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By Jennifer Antonik via delawarestatenews.net

MILFORD — U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons joined local officials Friday to announce a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to implement what could very well be a lifesaving service, We Care, through Sussex County’s Meals on Wheels program.
The grant, awarded to CHEER Senior Services, La Red Health Center and Educational Health Resources International (EHRI), the nonprofit arm of Nationwide Healthcare Services at the Milford Wellness Village, will give the three groups the opportunity to work together to provide wellness checks with medical follow-up to homebound seniors who receive food from Meals on Wheels.
Together, they will receive a third of the grant each year for three years to ensure program stability as they begin, officials said.
Cheer, Inc. Executive Director Ken Bock said the We Care program was also able to bring in another $250,00 of non-federal funding to help bolster the program.

He said the program will “help bring medical services into the homes of our isolated senior citizens who, too many, don’t have access to adequate medical care. We have one of the largest Meals on Wheels delivery programs, homebound delivery programs, in the state…
“We’re looking to expand on that because too many times, we hear from volunteers and staff that go to the homes of these individuals that there is nobody else in that home. There is no other human contact. No other interaction and if you’ve ever delivered homebound meals in a rural area, you can relate to exactly what I’m saying. When that volunteer shows up at the door with that meal, that’s the bright spot in the day for so many, many people because there is not going to be anybody else there.”
With that in mind, a grant proposal was submitted to the HHS in hope of offering necessary services to the people served by Meals on Wheels in Sussex County.
“Only seven in the whole nation were funded. And the application that scored the highest in the nation was this one. Congratulations,” Sen. Carper said in a news conference in the Wellness Village, located in the former Milford Memorial Hospital.
“I’m a big believer in root causes.” he added. “A lot of times we address just the symptoms of the problems and one of the great things about this grant and the ability to focus more on root causes. Not only if they’re just hungry, or not if they’re just lonely, but if they’re having some kind of a medical issue that needs some attention, it’s just a wonderful, wonderful idea. And we get to kind of pioneer this for the county. Isn’t that great?”

We Care will offer a comprehensive patient-centered team approach to providing wellness and primary care, according to Cheer, Inc. Wellness checks will include a simple, short medical screening survey to be performed in-home by trained staff and volunteers.
According to Cheer, Inc., seniors will be asked brief yes and no or multiple-choice questions which will be entered by the staff member or volunteer. A medical practitioner will then review and monitor submissions for indicators of health-related issues.
Should an issue arise, the medical professional will contact the senior to make them aware of the concern. They can also make referrals to appropriate medical care. Program participants can also receive reminders for other needed medical services.
Sen. Coons said, “It’s not a home health aide, but it’s the best eyes and ears that we’ve got by connecting with hundreds of seniors who want to live at home as long as possible.”
He added that the program a remarkable partnership which will help seniors in Sussex County age gracefully in healthily, peaceful and respectful ways.

“This federal funding will make a real difference for seniors in Sussex County by expanding access to necessary medical care and important health screenings,” Sen. Coons said. “As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, one of my top priorities is ensuring that important programs like this one are funded and supported, and I’m excited that these critical federal funds will help our senior citizens maintain their independence.”
State Rep. Bryan Shupe, who helped champion the Wellness Village in Milford, and Nationwide Healthcare Services’ CEO Meir Gelley said proactive care like this will indeed help seniors maintain their independence and allow them the freedom to age at home.
“The beauty of this program is it uses meal delivery almost as pretext to constantly monitor the wellbeing of meal recipients. The whole idea is to prevent health crisis’s from developing. Nationwide’s role is caring for the elderly. And we cherish and honor the men and women we are entrusted to care for. But we also are advocates for people living at home for as long as possible until or when they need our services,” Mr. Gelley said.
Nationwide Healthcare Services hopes to open their assisted living facility at the Wellness Village in Milford in about two months, he added.
“We at Nationwide have been taking care of frail and elderly individuals for nearly 30 years. We know what’s involved and how to deliver the most appropriate care. That’s why we are so enthusiastic about having our nonprofit arm, EHRI, participating in this research and effort to coordinate care,” he said.

“This grant is not only an investment in the welfare of our local senior community, it has the potential to improve the quality of health care and outcomes for seniors throughout our state,” Rep. Shupe also said.