Home, sweet home

The Home Safety Modification pilot program is a success with Island seniors.


According to 2,500 respondents to Healthy Aging MV’s 2020 Islandwide survey, for 97 percent of older adults, home is where the heart is — meaning they wish to stay in their homes as they age. Keeping homes safe and age-friendly is a cornerstone of making this a reality, which is all the more pertinent with Falls Prevention Month upon us. Unfortunately, one out of three Vineyard older adults who need to make these modifications lack some or all the budget to do them. So, here’s a success story of how the Island came together to address this problem.

Over the past two years, Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard, through its convening of the Falls Prevention Coalition, has rolled out and managed an impressive pilot home safety modification program to prevent falls for Island homeowners 65 and older.

The objective of the pilot, with funding from a Martha’s Vineyard Hospital community grant and the Martha’s Vineyard Bank, is to create an Islandwide, scalable, cost-effective program. Organizers will collaborate with Island service agencies — in partnership with the Martha’s Vineyard Builders’ Association, which promotes this program to their contractor membership who are willing to make time in their busy schedules to take on these smaller jobs.

The program is referral-based, with applications available at local Councils on Aging. Participants pay a sliding-scale fee based on income. Of the 50 clients to date, 76 percent were fully subsidized, 18 percent paid 20 percent of the total cost, and 6 percent paid $100.

The first step upon acceptance is a comprehensive low-cost, high-impact needs assessment by Jack Gray, HAMV referring consultant and contractor, who volunteers to carry out the home audits. “Since the day I was asked to participate in this new venture, I knew it was a good fit,” Gray says. “As a building contractor for 40-plus years, it seemed a good time to share my acquired talents with people in need of simple improvements that can make a big difference in their safety and comfort as we all get older. The folks we’ve worked with are so grateful for our interest and help.”

Client Betty Jean Kennedy says, “Jack was utterly fantastic, because he just knew everything. He pointed out things we didn’t have any idea were a problem in our home. Now that we’re reaching the older years, we have to be more careful.”

The program approaches the assessment from the homeowner’s perspective, and provides solutions customized to their daily routines, needs, and preferences. Modifications span from simple to more complicated. There are grab-bar installations in bathrooms for toilets, showers, bathtubs, and doorways. One participant told HAMV about this simple change: “Before the grab bars were put in my shower, I was always afraid I might fall when I closed my eyes when I was washing my hair.”

Other common modifications include stairwell banisters and outer railings; improved lighting; taping down rugs and smoothing floors; installing nonskid strips for stairs, bathrooms, kitchens, and staircases; installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors; securing bookshelves to walls; building terraced walkways with handrails, and securing wheelchair ramps.

“I had no idea I would use the railings and the bars as much as I do now,” Kennedy says. “It makes me feel much more secure. They were perfect. I couldn’t find fault with them at all. They actually did the work in one day.”

One participating contractor, Marques Carpentry, has worked with Gray and the team to accelerate the modification process, so the impact on the homeowner is lessened.

Other program participants have been quite happy with their experience. “I’m thrilled with the work, and the people who did it were tremendous,” Connie Scott says. “They were very helpful to me in explaining things in a language I could understand about what they were doing.”

In fact, all the participants surveyed expressed confidence that the modifications have increased their safety.

Woody Mitchell, who is in charge of permitting and administrative duties at Squash Meadow Construction, couldn’t be happier with being involved. “When asked to participate in the program, we found it a great way to give back to the Martha’s Vineyard community,” he said. “We were able to do this through evaluation of needs and installing solutions for mobility, accessibility, and safety.”

And the numbers speak loudly. Sixty percent of participants reported falls on their property before modifications, with only 10 percent doing so after them.

Another key player, Louise Clough, who has been coordinating the program since early 2021, says, “I’ve met some very interesting people, and it’s particularly gratifying to find out that they learned about the program from other participants who are neighbors or friends — giving me a real sense of community.”

As HAMV executive director Cindy Trish says, “It takes an Island to solve this problem. The coalition came up with the solution, and Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard has made it happen. We were able to learn from other communities about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to home safety modification programs, and were able to hit the ground running.”

For more information, contact your Council on Aging for an application, or visit the HAMV website at hamv.org/home-safety or contact Cindy Trish at ctrish@hamv.org or 508-693-7900, ext. 455. To learn more about the Falls Prevention Coalition and the 16 Island-wide members, as well as helpful information and resources, see hamv.org/falls-prevention.