Mary Ballard had a few close calls. The 80-year-old Houston resident slipped while stepping out of the bath, narrowly avoiding a catastrophic fall.
Ballard said she was bruised and a little sore, but she counted her blessings. Many of her friends and neighbors haven’t been as lucky.
“My neighbor across the street is in the hospital right now after breaking her femur in a fall,” Ballard said. “It is so important to be careful at my age. I know every room and hallway of this house, I know every step and just where to grab to help myself along, but I know I have to be more careful. I am constantly aware that I could fall again, and the next fall could be really bad.”
So, Ballard took action. After hearing about the Houston Health Department’s Healthy Homes Fall Prevention Program through her church’s senior group, Ballard attended a training session and enrolled in the home inspection program to get custom recommendations to safeguard her home.
The Healthy Homes Fall Prevention Program began in 2014 for people ages 60 and up. It promotes health and well-being and aims to prevent emergency room usage for preventable falls in the home. This preventive program is state-funded by a 1115 Medicaid waiver in an effort to offset potential costs from senior falls.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that medical costs for falls totaled more than $50 billion in 2015, with Medicare and Medicaid incurring 75 percent of these costs.
“Our inspectors go to seniors’ homes, give safety tips, point out hazards like clutter, rugs with curling edges, and we do whatever we can to make their homes safe and improve their quality of life,” said program manager Zaida “Janet” Ikpeme.
“If funds are available, we will work with contractors to install with grab bars for bathroom, elevated toilets, rails and ramps in limited cases. We do a follow-up visit after six months and 12 months to see if there have been any other falls or visits to ER because of falls,” she said.
To qualify for the program, participants must be 65 or older, or have full-time care of someone 65 or older. Participants must own his or her own home or have permission from the home owner to authorize safety device installation.
“This is a wonderful resource for seniors because it opens seniors’ eyes to simple things they can do around the house to prevent falls and other injuries,” Ikpeme said. “Assessments, and in many cases supplies are free. The family gets involved and we can refer them to more services Area Agency on Aging. We have so many services that many seniors aren’t aware of, like vision and dental screenings, residential repair, training for care-givers and care coordination. We can provide medical alert buttons, we can help with medication, incontinence supplies, nutrition and more.”
Rasheedah Mujtabaa, an HHD environmental investigator, recently visited Ballard to assess her home for fall hazards. Upon arrival, Mujtabaa surveyed the exterior of the property for structural damage, obvious roof damage, uneven pavement or loose steps. After entering Ballard’s home, Mujtabaa toured the interior pointing out potential hazards and problem areas like uneven floors, loose tile and potential slippery spots in the restrooms and kitchens.
“We look for a variety of things: rugs with curling edges, excessive clutter, spots on the ceiling, cracks in walls or buckled floors,” Mujtabaa said. “If there are problems with the foundation or floors, it makes it more difficult for us to install grab bars in the bathroom or elevated toilets. I also look at how the seniors walk, their gate, how mobile they are.”
After surveying the home, Mujtabaa conducted a detailed interview with Ballard to discuss social interactions, medical history, prescribed medicine, eating and exercising habits and more.
“All the information that I received at the training and during the home visit was helpful, and presented at level that was easy to understand,” Ballard said. “There were some things I didn’t realize were putting me in danger, so I will start making progress slowly and eliminating things around the house that could cause a fall. I will definitely share this with my senior group and the class I teach at my church.”
For details about the Health Homes Fall Prevention Program, email Zaida.Ikpeme@houstontx.gov.