The woman called with a concern about her neighbor: He seemed to have stopped shaving, and his overall hygiene was worrisome.

At the other end of the line was a representative from the Community Renewal Team Senior Services Gatekeeper Program, one of four agencies that, as part of a statewide program, take confidential referrals from people concerned about the well-being of seniors.

A staffer from the program visited the man’s apartment and found that he was struggling to keep it clean and care for himself. He hadn’t been taking his diabetes or blood pressure medication. But the staffer thought the man would qualify for a state home care program for elders, and he ultimately got a homemaker and a home health aide who help him stay in his apartment.

Gustave Keach-Longo, executive director of senior services for CRT, described the case Thursday during a presentation on the Gatekeeper Program, which aims to connect seniors who need assistance with programs that could help them, including medical, social and mental health services.

It relies on neighbors, family, mail carriers, hairdressers and others who encounter seniors to make referrals, then dispatches social workers to assess the situation and refer people to any services that are appropriate. The program includes education about signs of problems for people likely to come into contact with seniors, including postal workers, meals-on-wheels delivery workers, residential property managers, visiting nurses and seniors.

The program began as a pilot in 2009 by St. Luke’s Eldercare Services in Middletown and, since last fall, has been funded statewide by the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services. Four agencies run the program, each covering a portion of the state. Dwight Norwood, director of the St. Luke’s gatekeeper program, said Connecticut is the first state to have a statewide program.

During the forum, held at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford, speakers described the need for the program, including the state’s growing senior population and the prevalence of behavioral health issues in older adults. One in four has a diagnosable psychiatric disorder, including anxiety, depression or dementia.

From October through December last year, the first quarter the Gatekeeper Program ran statewide, 645 people received education about it and signs to look for, and there were 25 referrals of people deemed to be at risk. Norwood said there’s likely to be a lag in referrals until more people are aware of the program.

One of the referrals came from a senior center director and went to the gatekeeper program run by the Mental Health Association of Connecticut, which serves the Western part of the state. The director was concerned about a woman who had recently been widowed, was depressed and, because she did not know how to drive, had struggled to get around, relying on a private taxi service because her health made it difficult to walk to the public bus.

Lindsay, Carlson, the program’s project manager, said gatekeeper staff met with the woman and called Greater Bridgeport Transit to get her an interview with a program for seniors and people with disabilities. She ultimately qualified for the program, which provides her with door-to-door livery service at a significantly reduced rate. The gatekeeper staff also helped reconnect the woman with her local senior center.

“Transportation to you may seem small, but to her it allows her to reconnect with the social supports of her community and really opens up the world to her that she’d been cut off to for such a long time,” Carlson said.

Rep. Joseph Serra, D-Middletown, said most state representatives and senators are gatekeepers too, whether they know it or not. Serra, co-chairman of the Aging Committee, recalled getting a call from a constituent who had applied for Medicaid but didn’t remember doing so and became concerned when she got a letter about it from the state. Serra said he relayed his concerns to one of the woman’s children.

“These are the kind of things that I think we can all say that we’ve experienced as they call our office,” he said. While some people call looking for help, he added, some aren’t as direct. “They sometimes know that there’s something wrong with them but they’re not quite sure.”

More information on the Gatekeeper Program is available here.

Arielle Levin Becker covered health care for The Connecticut Mirror. She previously worked for The Hartford Courant, most recently as its health reporter, and has also covered small towns, courts and education in Connecticut and New Jersey. She was a finalist in 2009 for the prestigious Livingston Award for Young Journalists, a recipient of a Knight Science Journalism Fellowship and the third-place winner in 2013 for an in-depth piece on caregivers from the National Association of Health Journalists. She is a 2004 graduate of Yale University.

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