Plough Foundation's $12 million Aging Initiative finds success in supporting Memphis seniors

In 2014, the Plough Foundation awarded $12 million in Aging Initiative grants to improve the lives of Shelby County seniors and increase awareness of the growing needs of older adults.


New programs funded by the grants have garnered state and national attention for the impact they’ve made on the quality-of-life, safety, independence, and emotional and physical health of older adults.


Those local efforts and successes will be highlighted at the three-day Grantmakers in Aging Conference, which takes place October 17 to 19 in Memphis. Plough is hosting the event.


John Feather, CEO of Grantmakers in Aging, said Plough’s Aging Initiative is unique. “Less than two percent of philanthropic dollars go to aging issues, even though the population of older adults is expanding rapidly,” he said.


Plough spent four years researching the needs of older adults in Shelby County before requesting grant proposals, “which also is a fairly unique approach,” Feather said, adding he ties it to the foundation’s deep roots in the community.

Backed by an Aging Initiative grant, MIFA provided 648,000 free meals to Shelby County seniors in need. (Submitted) “The thing about aging issues is it runs the gamut from housing to health care, the arts to volunteer service, to transportation. It makes sense that an organization with deep roots in the community also has a broad understanding of the social needs of the community and would take this kind of approach,” Feather added.


Katie Midgley, Plough’s director of research and evaluation, said there are 112,777 adults aged 65 and older in Shelby County. By 2030, the number is expected to increase to 178,248. That means 17 percent of all county residents will be senior citizens.


“Our city is getting older and our demographics already look different than they did 10 years ago, and they will look very different 10 years from now,” Midgley said.


“Increased longevity is to be celebrated, but we have a lot of folks living on limited incomes and in precarious situations, too,” she said.


The Plough grants given in 2014 included support for a coordinated Community Response to Elder Abuse (CREA) and new programs including Aging in Place, No Hungry Senior, and Community-Based Eye Care for Older Memphians.


Local non-profits served as lead agencies and collaborated with other organizations to provide services. “We are very proud of how many partners have come together to increase the awareness and needs of this important segment of our population,” said Rick Masson, executive director of the Plough Foundation.

No Hungry Senior

In 2014, there were 3,000 people on the waiting list for Meals on Wheels and research by Plough identified 4,000 older citizens who lacked reliable access to nutritious meals.


Metropolitan Inter-Faith Association (MIFA) used the $3.9 million grant to reduce those numbers by roughly 50 percent. As the lead agency, it partnered with the Aging Commission of the Mid-South, Baptist Memorial Healthcare, Catholic Charities of West Tennessee,, Memphis Jewish Federation, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Mid-South Food Bank, and University of Memphis School of Public Health to offer No Hungry Senior.


The program provides older adults who are homebound or lack access to food a hot meal each weekday or a shelf-stable box of food holding seven meals and snacks.


Sally Heinz, MIFA president and CEO, said it costs about $7 a day to serve a client and in the past three years the program has provided 648,000 meals to 1,757 seniors who otherwise may go without.


Partnerships and volunteers have helped keep the program costs down, and Heinz expects the Plough funding will last through June 2019. MIFA and the partner agencies hope the data they’ve collected will lead to new funding sources so the program can continue.


After receiving meals from No Hungry Senior for one year, the number of people who reported eating less than two meals a day dropped from 63 percent to 10 percent, Heinz said. Seniors also reported feeling less lonely, a decrease in hospitalizations and ER visits, and overall improved health.


Methodist compared the health records of 229 patients who had received meals for one year and found a 34 percent reduction in inpatient admissions, a 27 percent reduction in observations, and a 21 percent reduction in total medical encounters.


“One of the things I think is exciting about this program is we are able to say there was a real reduction in healthcare costs for the older adult population,” Midgley said. “I get excited about what this can mean for our overall community,” she added.

No-cost vision screenings

The Southern College of Optometry was the lead agency for the Community-Based Eye Care Program and Plough's $180,00 grant. The college took its mobile unit to libraries, senior centers, churches and housing developments across Shelby County and offered free vision screenings. In all, it held 26 events in 15 months.

The Southern College of Optometry provided 542 free eye screenings for older Memphians as part of a grant from the Plough Foundation. (Submitted)

Student clinicians provided 542 free eye exams to people ages 60 and older, 91 percent of whom needed prescription vision correction, Midgley said. Of those, 99 percent received a free pair of glasses, too. One in three persons screened were referred for follow-up care.  


Midgley said the clients appreciated the free screenings and requested the mobile unit come to their church or neighborhoods so more older citizens could benefit.


“The need is there and seniors face a lot of challenges,” she said. Medicare and Medicaid do not cover prescription vision correction for seniors, even though poor eyesight can contribute to falls and indicate larger health issues.


According to data collected by the college, 37 percent of seniors served at the mobile clinic did not have insurance, 24 percent said their co-pay was too high, and 18 percent said they lacked transportation.


Midgley said the screenings have ended and the college is seeking funding to continue the program.  

Responding to elder abuse

The Coordinated Response to Elder Abuse (CREA) is an effort to comprehensively address elder abuse. Masson said only one in 23 victims report the crime, whether it is neglect or physical, emotional, sexual or financial abuse.

The Family Safety Center was the lead agency for the $3.45 million grant and worked with 25 public and non-profit partners. During the grant period, 2015-17, CREA responded to 631 cases of elder abuse and neglect in Shelby County and supported victims by providing emergency protection, housing, legal aid, medical services, case management, and more.  

CREA worked closely with the District Attorney’s Vulnerable Adult Protective Investigative Team (VAPIT) to make sure perpetrators were prosecuted. In addition, it established a Senior Protective Coalition to advise lawmakers on policy, educate the community and create training programs on recognizing and responding to elder abuse.


The first of the training programs, designed for ER personnel, was recognized with the Georgia Anetzberger Award during the University of Southern California Judith D. Tamkin International Symposium on Elder Abuse earlier this year.


The coalition is raising funds to sustain the program, Masson said. After the grant period ended, the Family Safety Center took ownership of CREA, which has allowed services and advocacy to continue.


Masson said CREA has made a big impact in the lives and safety of older adults and become a model program for other cities. State officials come to Memphis on a regular basis, “and they say we are so far ahead of the rest of the state in addressing elder abuse in a coordinated fashion,” he said.

Aging in Place

Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis was the lead agency for the $3.9 million Aging in Place grant. It partnered with Service Over Self and Memphis, Light, Gas & Water to weatherize and make accessibility improvements, mobility modifications and repairs to 374 homes in Shelby County.

Supported by a $3.9 million Aging Initiative Grant, Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis completed 374 aging-in-place home repairs for Shelby County seniors. (Submitted)

Midgley said homeowners, who were surveyed after the improvements were complete, reported lower utility costs, better health and social impacts, too. “They are now having family over because they feel better about their homes, which improves their mental health,” she said.


“They also are more satisfied with their neighborhoods,” Midgley added. “We are looking at this beyond sticks and bricks. We are looking at the impact on the whole person.”


According to Kim Morrison, communications manager for Habitat for Humanity of Greater Memphis, the Aging in Place program has been recognized by Fund for Shared Insight, Habitat for Humanity International, and received a 2017 Inside Memphis Business Innovation Award.

Habitat still offers the program in Shelby County, now funded through local, state and federal sources. And, it is working to take the program statewide, Morrison said.


“That is one of the outcomes of this initiative and one we are very proud of,” Masson said. “The foundation’s goal is to create structural, systemic change in the community, so then others will step forward and continue to meet the needs,” he added.   


This is the first time in 20 years the Grantmakers in Aging conference has been held in the South and landing it in Memphis is a testament to the significant progress that has been made in a short time, Masson said. “This is a recognition of the work that has been done by the agencies we’ve funded,” he added.


More than 200 foundation executives from across the country are expected to attend. The event includes site visits to local aging programs and presentations by Midgley, Heinz, Habitat of Greater Memphis, and the Southern College of Optometry.


“It is hard to turn the social needle on the way people look at a problem that exists in the community,” Masson said, adding true systemic change can take decades. “We know this is something that has to continue and we are in this for the long haul.”

Read more articles by Dawn Neuses.

Dawn Neuses is a transplant Memphian and part-time freelance journalist from the Midwest who spent the past year exploring her new home in the Mid-South. Dawn was a reporter for 20 years, covering everything from education to community activism, and enjoys learning something new from every person she meets.
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