Area communities considering grant to improve home health

Posted March 23, 2011, at 8 p.m.

VEAZIE, Maine — A group of Penobscot County communities is considering applying for a federal grant that would help address problems in unhealthy home environments.

The program, which would be funded by a Community Development Block Grant, aims to provide assistance for those who have health-related problems in their homes but can’t afford the needed improvements, Michael Bush of Penquis said Wednesday.

He said Veazie, Holden, Old Town and the Penobscot Indian Nation are collectively seeking up to $300,000 in CDBG funds to implement the program.

Penquis is helping to coordinate the application by working with town officials in Veazie, the lead applicant for the funding, Bush said.

Veazie Town Manager Bill Reed said Wednesday that Veazie is quarterbacking the regional application as part of the Town Council’s effort to develop partnerships with area communities with similar goals.

To that end, a regional public hearing to consider the program and seek Town Council approval for the grant application has been set for 7 p.m. Monday at the Veazie town office. The deadline for filing the application is April 1.

According to Bush, the program aims to improve the homes of children with asthma, elderly residents whose homes have unsafe steps or who require handicapped-accessible bathrooms, as well as area residents who receive social services in their homes as a means for maintaining their independence.

Reed said that too often needed health-related home improvements such as a new furnace or ducts or filters or the repair of a leaky roof aren’t covered by existing programs, such as general assistance.

Bush said what’s innovative about the program now being considered is that it makes a direct connection between home repairs and a specific health diagnosis, for example mold from a leaky roof and asthma or the potential for falls with unsafe stairs.

“We’re looking at cause and effect,” Reed agreed.

Bush said the concept for this approach grew out of a partnership with the Healthy Homes Asthma Project, a home-based asthma program developed by Bangor Health and Community Services. The program serves 12 towns in Greater Bangor. Referrals to the program come from area doctors who believe home visits can provide families ways to better manage asthma.

According to Patty Hamilton, public health director for the city of Bangor, the asthma home visitation program gives families another resource for identifying aspects of the home environment that might be triggering or exacerbating asthma.

“Managing asthma requires that families look wherever they can,” Hamilton said. Sometimes, she said, the cause might lie with the home itself — mold growing in moist areas, lack of ventilation, leaks in the roof or carbon monoxide leaks.

“While we can work with the family on such things as cleanliness and identifying allergens in the home, more expensive solutions that require fixing the home are often beyond the means of our clients,” she said. “By working with area towns, we hope to bring funding support that will help us fix these problems and make the home safer and healthier.”

Addressing home repair needs also can lead to significant medical savings, she said. By way of example, she said hospitalization for an asthma attack costs $7,000 to $9,000.  “During a time of limited funding,” Hamilton explained, “it only makes sense that we find new ways to integrate programs that will maximize the public benefit.”

Home repair funding also is becoming scarcer, Bush said. By partnering with towns, Penquis hopes to bring resources to the area that otherwise wouldn’t be available, since only municipalities can apply for CDBG funds.

He added that partnering with area agencies already making home visits, Penquis will become more effective at identifying those who need help. The benefit for agencies is that they would have one more means to effect positive change in their clients’ health.

Area agencies including Penquis, Bangor Health and Community Services, Eastern Area Agency on Aging and Community Health and Counseling have agreed to make referrals to the program.

For information, contact Bush at 973-3500.

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