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Updated: January 20, 2021

Housing authority collaboration with UNE will help train future clinicians

Courtesy / Westbrook Housing Authority From left, Kelly Abrams, administrative assistant, of New England Center for Excellence in Aging and Health; Dr. Tom Meuser, founding director of UNE CEAH; and Regi Robnett, associate director, UNE Center for Excellence in Aging and Health.

A collaboration between the Westbrook Housing Authority and the University of New England will help provide clinical training for future dentists, dental hygienists, physical therapists and social workers.

The collaboration will also give senior residents living in the authority’s 15 housing complexes access to free or reduced-cost, faculty-supervised care visits.

The project, made possible by a $20,000 grant provided by Gorham Savings Bank, aims to demonstrate "proof of concept" for collaborations between medical universities and housing authorities serving low-income populations, which often lack ready access to quality health and wellness care, according to a news release.

The university is home to Maine's only medical and dental colleges, as well as a variety of other interprofessional health care programs.

For now, the program is expected to launch with virtual-only visits until deemed safe by public health officials. The authority and the university’s Center for Excellence in Aging and Health signed a memorandum of understanding to establish the three-year, multi-phase student placement and research partnership. 

The authority’s apartment complexes collectively serve 638 households. By bringing services directly to low-income seniors, the program will reduce the physical and financial burdens of traveling to certain health appointments. At the same time, students will gain practical clinical and research experience.

“Mobility is often one of the biggest challenges, and by partnering with UNE, we can bring world-class medical, dental, physical therapy and social work services to our residents right at home while supporting the very research on aging that will improve our understanding of seniors’ specific housing needs,” said Chris LaRoche, the authority’s executive director. 

To administer the program, the university will locate a satellite office of its Center for Excellence in Aging and Health at the authority’s newly renovated Larrabee Woods facility, which will serve as the collaboration’s central hub. 

In October, the authority opened a new telehealth suite in Larrabee Woods to accommodate remote medical appointments for residents.

“Despite the challenges of this pandemic, Westbrook Housing’s invitation to join together and create meaningful services for residents could not have come at a better time, as many of our professional disciplines are reimagining how they can best prepare students to provide excellent care for their future patients,” said Dr. Tom Meuser, founding director of the UNE CEAH and professor of social work.

“While specific clinics and placements are still in their formative stages, I see great potential for a truly interdisciplinary outreach satellite linking students and faculty from all of our colleges.”

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