Helping seniors recover after a hospital stay through meal delivery

Meals that help seniors recover

On any given weekday morning, the kitchen of Senior Resources in Columbia, S.C. is buzzing with activity. Like a well-oiled machine, dozens of volunteers assume their position in the assembly line to pack up more than 600 meals for seniors in the community.

“We need at least 50 volunteers a day to make all of our operations happen,” said Andrew Boozer, executive director of Senior Resources.

The nonprofit has been a vital part of the Columbia community for five decades. They provide activities, services and programs for seniors with the goal of helping them stay independent and remain in their homes for as long as possible.

One of those services is a new pilot program called Senior Home Nutrition. A $120,000 UnitedHealthcare grant helps provide nutritious meals delivered to seniors’ homes, after returning from a hospital stay. The program serves those located in Richland County, South Carolina.

“UnitedHealthcare has really stepped in and filled a need that was in our community that we identified,” Andy said.

For eight weeks, participants in the program receive frozen meals along with a wellness check from a Senior Resources team member, like Sarah Fling — the senior home nutrition coordinator who visits dozens of seniors a week.

“I usually like to spend between 30 to 45 minutes with them, helping them get the food into their freezer, checking with them,” Sarah said. “And making sure that they are taken care of, that they have all of the help at the house that they need.”

“I never realized in my wildest imagination there was so much help out there.”

— Marie Price, client of Senior Resources

One of the clients, 87-year-old Marie Price, had back surgery in February and was concerned about returning home, especially when it came to cooking her own meals.

“This was right after surgery when I really, really needed help. I couldn't do anything,” Marie said.

That’s when Sarah began making weekly stops at Marie’s house.

“When Sarah came around, we just connected. She’s such a sweetheart,” Marie said.

Sarah’s visits provided Marie with balanced meals so she could focus on getting healthy, but the time they spent together also flourished into a friendship.

“We are here to let them know that they are important, they do matter and we do care and we are here to provide services for them free of charge,” Sarah said.

Along with providing meals, the program aims to increase in-home interactions with seniors who may be struggling with social isolation.

“Social isolation is a huge health crisis in the community. COVID-19 showed that to everyone, but for seniors, specifically who are home bound, it’s a real issue,” Andrew said.

Andrew said the meals and weekly check-ins help prevent seniors from returning the hospital, which can be common in the first 30 days after discharge. According to Senior Resources data, those who participated in the Senior Home Nutrition program were three times less likely to be re-admitted to the hospital.

“That's an improvement in quality of life for that senior and it saves our overworked hospital system because they don't have as many people being readmitted into the hospital,” Andrew said, “and from a payer perspective, it's saving money because the costly readmission is not happening.”

Now months out from her surgery, Marie has fully recovered and is thriving on her own. She said that would not have been possible without help from the Senior Home Nutrition program.

“This program has helped us stay in our home,” Marie said. “I never realized in my wildest imagination there was so much help out there.”

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