When you think about what makes you “healthy,” it’s natural to assess your physical health first. But when you consider your health in body, mind and spirit, there’s a lot more to it. In fact, your environment plays a really important part by contributing to all of those aspects — and to feeling whole.
Just imagine if you were a new wheelchair user, but your home had steps and lacked a ramp to enter it, or your hallway to your restroom was not wide enough any longer. Suddenly, your health and independence are further compromised.
This is why creating a healthy home has become one of AdventHealth Manchester’s ongoing global mission projects. In fact, for the last seven years, the hospital’s employees and physicians have partnered beyond the hospitals’ walls to identify and help local community members gain better accessibility and healthier environments through the “Healthy Homes” program.
We spoke with David Watson, Director of Engineering at AdventHealth Manchester, to learn more about the mission-driven work that’s being done to improve the lives of the local community.
A Healthy Home is Important to Whole Health
From the air you breathe, the sights you see and to how you’re able to access your daily needs, your home can either be your sanctuary or a challenge to live a healthful life. For some, especially those with disabilities, chronic health conditions and financial constraints, attaining a home that meets physical, emotional and spiritual needs isn’t possible without help.
“For a home to be healthy, it’s not just about access; we make sure an individual has the opportunity to go outside in a safe environment, breathe fresh air, see flowers — whatever it takes. Personally, I came a long way from being a carpenter to understanding there’s a lot more to creating a healthy home than just building a wheelchair ramp,” says Watson.
Watson has been involved in the program since its inception in 2011. What began as a management team funded project to improve access in one home has now grown into seven or eight projects a year.
“We’ve completed over 50 of these projects to date, and our program has expanded to collaborate with many additional community partners that assist in providing for our community members in need of assistance,” says Watson.
How the Healthy Home Program Works
Watson explains that this program takes many internal and external groups working together. Case management, home health, local churches and EMS responders all play an important role in identifying a person or home in need of improved accessibility, as well as medical assistance.
“If one of our partners finds that someone might be in need of our help, the nursing team performs a clinical assessment of the occupants in the home, and the home’s structural and access assessment is performed by our construction group,” Watson explains.
Once the assessments are complete, the information then goes to an interdisciplinary committee that reviews all of the applications. Then, they select the priority project and the team gets to work ordering materials and gathering the group of volunteers to make it happen.
Watson adds, “It takes a couple of weeks to organize and plan the project and one day to do the most important work. It’s a great way for our AdventHealth clinical and non-clinical staff to come together to promote the whole health of our community outside of the hospital.”
“Once we finish one project, we have a list of seven or eight more, so we quickly move on to the next. Today we have many individuals and businesses that donate to the program so we can help more people and homes.”
But as each project closes, it leaves a special imprint on the hearts and lives of both the volunteers and recipients.
Watson’s Most Memorable Story
“Watching our staff and community help fulfill the needs of our community’s home life and health is so fulfilling,” says Watson.
When asked about one project that was most memorable to him, he described this story.
“I am drawn to a ramp that we installed in the home of one elderly woman who is blind. Once we completed the ramp to ADA standards, we had to modify it because it was not working for her and how she was used to sliding down steps while seated due to her disability. We worked together to find what worked best for her, even if it wasn’t our optimal design.”
A Growing Program with a Growing List of Partners
“It takes a village to do this,” says Watson.
“We’ve had other community volunteers reached out wanting to help with these projects and have worked with great partners in the past, including churches with youth groups. We’ve built youth groups a deck to have study, built bunk houses, eradicated unhealthy conditions such as mold, widened doorways to help those with disabilities and assistive equipment and even planted flower gardens.”
The program has also formed a partnership with the University of Tennessee’s architectural department, working with a class of eight to 10 architectural seniors or graduate students to design a particular project. Right now, they are helping to design improved boat ramps for more access to kayaking.
“They help us put it on paper, so we can make it a reality,” Watson notes.
In addition, the program has engaged with the city and utility departments to include assistance with public transportation, electric and gas.
Watson adds, “Many elderly residents have a hard time affording their medications. One thing we can do to make this hardship better is to lower their energy costs by insulating and weatherizing their home and working with other city our county departments to make things more affordable.”
Extending Our Mission to Create Healthy Homes
Watson states, “It takes everyone around us to help make sure homes get healthier.”
“I’ve watched God’s hands grow this from one project a year to 20, and we are grateful to all of our volunteers, hospital teams and partners who are dedicated to extending our mission outside of the hospital,” concludes Watson.
Learn more, donate or get involved in the Healthy Homes program through AdventHealth Manchester Foundation Global Missions.