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Ensuring equitable access to medical and supportive care needs becomes increasingly critical as people age. Social and environmental factors such as residential segregation, discrimination, immigration, mobility, education and income can have a serious impact on access to care and well-being.
Given that challenge and the lack of data about elderly residents and local healthcare equity, Johns Hopkins Medicine-National Capital Region wants to both better understand the gaps in healthcare and engage older adults to encourage healthy activities, said Carolyn Carpenter, president of the National Capital Region of Johns Hopkins Health System.
“As a first step, we seek to understand,” Carpenter said. “What challenges are people experiencing? What resources or skills do they need? And how we can support them.”
Listening builds trust, which is necessary to any effort to improve health, she added. “Our responsibility is to listen, understand, partner and provide resources to improve equitable access.”
WTOP asked Carpenter what health systems like Johns Hopkins Medicine can do to make access to healthcare more equitable for the region’s older adults. She pointed to four specific barriers that health systems can help to address.
Healthcare Barrier No. 1: Transportation
“Access to safe and reliable transportation is a significant barrier for older adults, especially those who do not have family near them,” Carpenter said. Johns Hopkins Medicine partners with multiple services that offer transportation home from the emergency department, as well as to and from cancer services appointments, for instance.
“Anything we can do as health systems to create more reliable and accessible medical transportation options will go a long way toward improving access for older adults,” she said.
Barrier No. 2: Education
Health systems also can play a critical role in providing older adults with information about how they can live healthier lives. For instance, Suburban Hospital runs HeartWell Clinics at senior centers in Montgomery County at which nurses provide helpful information on cardiovascular, endocrine and behavior health needs.
Barrier No. 3: Technology
The pandemic served to make technology more critical in accessing health services.
“More reliance on telemedicine will certainly be a legacy of the pandemic, but not everyone has access to this technology or knows how to use it. One example of addressing this is the Sibley Senior Association’s effort to distribute tablets to seniors and hold weekly training sessions. Carpenter said.
Health systems must continue to help older adults use the technology-based tools that that are now so pervasive in communications with health systems, she said. In particular, she noted, support for using MyChart, a digital portal that Johns Hopkins Medicine and many other health systems use to communicate with patients, is critical.
Barrier No. 4: Care at home
As the nation’s average age continues to rise and most Baby Boomers are now older than 60, health systems should consider how to expand their in-home services, Carpenter said. “We have resources to provide care for older adults at home.” Adding more home-based services is an important way that health systems can help older adults continue to live in their homes longer.
Johns Hopkins Medicine-National Capital Region is a member of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.
The Greater Washington Board of Trade has represented all industry sectors in the District of Columbia, suburban Maryland, and Northern Virginia for over 130 years. Pro-business and non-partisan, they bring local leaders together to drive smart, innovative solutions for inclusive economic growth and livability. For more information go to BOT.org
Real-world success stories: Johns Hopkins Medicine-National Capital Region community programs create opportunities for older adults to improve well-being
• Club Memory is a supportive group for people with Alzheimer’s disease and other cognitive impairments and their care partners. What began as a small group of people meeting in the cafeteria at Sibley Memorial Hospital has now expanded to include groups that meet in every ward in the District of Columbia, as well as in Montgomery County, Maryland, and in Northern Virginia.
“We are well on our way to securing funding to implement a digital navigator role within Club Memory to help seniors become more comfortable with using technology to access healthcare,” said Carolyn Carpenter, president of the National Capital Region of the Johns Hopkins Health System.
• Washington Metropolitan Oasis is an education program for adults over 50 that offers lectures, seminars and volunteer opportunities.
• Senior Shape is an exercise program that began at Suburban Hospital. It offers exercise classes for older adults including aerobics, weight training, stability ball and flexible strength at 10 community and senior centers throughout Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in Maryland.
“Since the pandemic, over 35,000 seniors have been able to exercise through Zoom, improving their health while providing a social support system,” Carpenter said.
“Through all of these programs, we are able to create a community for older adults where they can build connections and friendships — and that alone can help improve health and a sense of well-being,” Carpenter said.