rural aging

Whitman County Library Offers Coloring, Rural Heritage Events for Seniors

In partnership with EHF, the Whitman County Library is offering Coffee, Cookies, and Coloring for Seniors at the Colfax Library, 102 S Main Street, on Tuesday, as well as Rural Heritage programming on February 24 at 1:00pm at the Plymouth Congregational Church, 321 S Main Street.

For more information see the announcement in the Spokesman Review, or call Sarah McKnight at the Whitman County Library: (509)397-4366!

2016 Rural Aging Responsive Grant Cycle now open!

Yoga instructor Suzy McNeilly and Whitman County Library Program Coordinator Sara Garza set up for a yoga class for older adults as part of their 2015 Rural Aging Responsive Grant project, "Making Connections for Older Adults."

Yoga instructor Suzy McNeilly and Whitman County Library Program Coordinator Sara Garza set up for a yoga class for older adults as part of their 2015 Rural Aging Responsive Grant project, "Making Connections for Older Adults."

Empire Health Foundation's Rural Aging Responsive Grant Cycle has one purpose: to provide up to $15,000 of funding for a broad range of one-time projects designed to help adults age 60 and over live full, meaningful lives with independence and dignity. Projects in the following regions are eligible: Adams, Ferry, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, and Whitman Counties, as well as the Colville, Kalispel, and Spokane Reservations.

Key areas of interest include:

Community care integration

Projects concerned with delivery of services and supports that allow older adults to maintain independence and dignity, and to stay in their homes and communities as long as possible.

Workforce development and geriatric education

Projects designed to increase the quality and/or quantity of the direct-care workforce serving older adults, especially in home and community-based settings.


Projects involving the development and implementation of technological tools to support older adults and/or their caregivers.

Family/informal caregivers

Projects providing support (training, education, respite, etc.) to unpaid family and informal caregivers.

Transitions in care

Projects concerning services and supports for seniors moving between care settings (e.g. coming home from the hospital, or moving from a rehabilitative stay in a nursing home into a home with a family member).

Chronic disease prevention and management

Projects that implement programs designed to help seniors prevent or manage chronic diseases.

Psychosocial wellbeing and engagement

Projects designed to keep seniors engaged and active in their communities, connected to others, and valued for their wisdom and life experience.

Intergenerational engagement

Projects providing opportunities for seniors to engage with youth and younger adults in their communities.

Contact Jeri Rathbun at 509-919-3047 or for more information.

Rural Aging Initiative Supports Remote Health Monitoring for Seniors in Lincoln County

Health@Home, a program supported by EHF's Rural Aging Services Initiative, is helping seniors with diabetes in Lincoln County stay on track.  This program is administered by Lincoln County Hospital District #3 and provides seniors with health monitoring equipment and a direct connection by telephone to a nurse in North Carolina who helps participants monitor health indicators like blood sugar, weight, and blood pressure.  Participants with diabetes have seen an average decrease of 2 points in their hemoglobin A1C levels over the first three months of the program, indicating improved control over their diabetes.

Check out this article courtesy of the Spokesman Review for more information on Health@Home, or download the PDF below:


Meet Mary Selecky, December's Featured Board Member

We are excited to continue our monthly series highlighting our Board of Directors!  This month we are delighted to feature former Washington State Secretary of Health Mary Selecky.  Take a look at her interview below!

And in case you missed it, you can check out our first three Board Member interviews with Sue Lani Madsen, Matt Layton, and Todd Koyama on our blog.

Featured Board Member: Mary Selecky


Who are you and what do you do?

After growing up in Pennsylvania in a large family in a small town, attending the University of Pennsylvania and serving as Assistant Dean of Students at Sarah Lawrence College and the University of Pennsylvania, I ventured west for friends in 1974 never expecting to fall in love with the mountains and making my home here. After 41 years, I still live on the property I bought in 1974 and have wonderful views of mountains everywhere.  Colville is a small town of 5,000 and jobs for folks with college degrees were not in high demand.  I was lucky to get employment in local government first in economic development for four years and then in public health.  I enjoyed working for local government and the elected officials but I fell in love with public health.  I was a local public health administrator for 20 years and was named Secretary of Health by Governor Gary Locke in 1999 taking my passion for rural health and public health to the state and national level.  I retired after serving under three Governors – Locke, Gregoire, and Inslee – in 2013 and returned to my rural home.

 Tell us a little about yourself and your background.  

See some of that above.  I grew up in a family of 7 kids – four boys and three girls – with ages ranging twenty years.  Our family was very involved in community and church.  We grew up with a philosophy of “if not you, then who?” when we asked about something that needed to be done in the community.  My dad was a lawyer and eventually a judge and died very young at age 49.  At that time my older siblings were in college and I was the oldest at home.  My mom had 7 of us including a two year old so we all pitched in to keep the family rhythm including serving the community. 

What is your favorite book?  

Currently, “The Road to Character” by David Brooks; for public health, “House on Fire” by William H. Foege, MD; for historical fiction “Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet” by Jamie Ford.

How long have you been a member of the EHF Board?  

I joined the board in 2014 after retiring from state service.

What attracted you to the Empire Health Foundation Board of Directors?

I have to say that [current EHF board member] Sam Selinger and [former EHF board member] Garman Lutz were quite persuasive in talking about the work of the Foundation as it reached its 5th year of maturity.  I was aware of the foundation and its mission and service area.  I am particularly interested in making sure that it isn’t “Spokane centric” and knows about the issues in the surrounding rural counties.  After two years on the board I know that is not the case.  For example, this summer we reached out to our rural partners during the fires and were able to provide air cleaners for health settings.

What most excites you about our work and mission?

We don’t jump from project to project.  The goal of changing health of our communities that can be sustained takes longer than an episodic intervention – both are important but it is the long term sustainability that we want to invest in.  We also take a collaborative and comprehensive view of the issues that face our communities.  We also realize that what works in the more urban/metro community may not work in our small rural communities; tactics would have to be customized but the mission and goal need to be common to all.

Has anything surprised you about Empire Health Foundation?  If so, what?

The Board of Directors is very engaged in the direction of the Foundation.  We are willing to take stock and change course if necessary.  That kind of engagement is not common to all boards but is also characteristic to this region. 

Finally, when you have an out-of-town guest visit, what is your “must do” in your community.

Have a great dinner with friends at my house, a drive about with stories about the history of the area, and if time permits, Grand Coulee Dam….and getting there by driving along the Columbia River and then the waters of Lake Roosevelt.  Perhaps taking the free ferry from Keller to Wilbur – the only free ferry in Washington State.  And of course include stories about the history of this area. 

Rural Aging Investments in Indian Country

Introduction: Our Approach

It may come as no surprise that there are tremendous opportunities to increase philanthropic engagement in Native communities.  According to a recent report by Philanthropy Northwest, only roughly 2% of all philanthropic dollars in the Northwest US are directed to Native peoples [1].   While at EHF we have been working with regional partners to reduce health disparities in Indian Country since 2011, we have found a unique opportunity with our Rural Aging Services Initiative, devoting approximately 22% of this initiative's funding to strengthen and build new relationships in the three tribal communities in our funding region.  Shared results, community engagement, and a focus on sustainability converge to form the basis of our funding partnerships throughout Eastern Washington, and this approach, aimed at achieving full co-ownership of the work, takes on a particular shape in our efforts to serve elders living in tribal communities in the region. 

Current Partnerships: October 2015

Currently, our Rural Aging Portfolio includes strategic projects with the Spokane, Kalispel, and Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, each of which we are co-designing with our on-the-ground partners in order to meet select needs identified by each community.  Of course, each of these partnerships is different, so we took on different approaches to engaging with the communities and with community leaders.  However, throughout these collaborations, we have maintained a commitment to co-ownership of investments and strong community engagement with a focus on shared, measurable results.  The way we see it, once we agree with our partners on what we want collectively to achieve, how we get the results we are seeking is best left to the experts – them.

Spokane Tribe of Indians

Like many of our initiatives, our partnership with the Spokane Tribe is a multi-pronged effort, which is aimed at improving health outcomes and reducing unnecessary emergency service use for elders living on the Reservation.  While the program kicked off in May 2015, we began working with the Tribe’s Health and Human Services department in late 2014 to design a program that would meet the community’s self-identified needs and respect each partner’s priorities.

Since it was the first of our tribal partnerships within our Rural Aging Services Initiative, we had no preconceived notions of what the partnership or project would look like, which meant that we needed to have at least a few in-person meetings to establish a rapport and begin a dialogue.  Enlisting the support of a strategic consultant, we held a preliminary design session (pictured below) with some representatives from Health and Human Services, as well some community conversations with small groups of elders.  A focus on safety, a need for sustainability, staff development and providing services for elders with the highest need emerged as priorities from these early conversations.  For example, one community member told the group about an elder who walked eight miles in the snow after being discharged from the hospital without somehow securing a ride back to the Reservation.  Stories such as these showed us that oftentimes elders will simply make do with what they see as available, and demonstrated a need for consistent, reliable supports rather than one-off interventions.

February 2015 meeting with Spokane Tribe Health & Human Services and EHF Rural Aging Team, facilitated by strategic consultant.

February 2015 meeting with Spokane Tribe Health & Human Services and EHF Rural Aging Team, facilitated by strategic consultant.

Based on the identified priorities, we co-designed the program to include (1) in-home health coaching with locally trained community health workers, (2) monthly educational community gatherings at the Tribe’s Senior Center, and (3) minor home modifications/repairs depending on need.  Through our shared commitment to seeing measurable results, we are looking to achieve a 20% increase in Patient Activation – a short-term survey-based assessment which is strongly correlated with long-term health improvements [2] – and a 20% reduction in emergency service use for program participants.  Over the course of the two-year program, we are hoping to reach approximately 115 elders living on the Reservation.

The two-year program achieved almost 25% of its enrollment target in the first three months, and we are working closely with Health and Human Services to ramp up the program and coordinate with other resources available to elders on the reservation, such as Indian Health Services and the Tribal Health Program.  Fostering collaboration with other organizations on the Reservation supports sustainability efforts, and ensuring the continuation of important services for elders will go a long way towards strengthening our relationships within the Spokane Tribe community.

Kalispel Tribe of Indians

Having developed an initial model for serving rural seniors, we started our collaboration with the Kalispel Tribe of Indians on their Rural Aging project in June 2015, and the program kicked off in early September.  Based on the community health worker model mentioned above, the Kalispel Tribe’s Elder Support Program includes support for a Rural Aging Resource Specialist, who will offer in-home and phone-based health coaching support and connect elders to other services available on the Reservation, such as healthy meals, transportation, and educational events.  Other program components will be developed based on community stakeholder meetings, to be administered by the Tribe, ensuring that elders’ voices are heard and incorporated into the program.  As Felipe, the Tribe’s Grants Manager, wrote in the project proposal, “In Native American communities, Elders are a venerable population and regarded as the keepers of tribal culture and traditions.”  For us, this means that ensuring robust community engagement is critical to building and maintaining strong relationships with this community, and we are making investments to this end with the long-term goal of supporting this partnership.

Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation

In addition to direct service programs like those mentioned above, we are also making investments in partnership with the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation aimed at making strategic systems improvements to better serve the community at large.  We began by meeting with the Tribes’ Services Director, who stressed that while eldercare is certainly important for her community, the prerequisite for a successful initiative to improve health outcomes for elders would be an operational plan for the entire Services Division.  Simply pouring in resources to start another program would miss a larger opportunity to strengthen collaboration and cohesion throughout the Division, which would have positive effects not only for elders but also for the whole community, and would moreover set the stage for a successful eldercare project later down the line.  In order to address this community need, we leveraged our connection with a local strategic planner who specializes in working with Tribes, and have made a relatively modest investment that we think will go a long way toward improving health outcomes on the Colville Reservation.  In short, meeting select community needs – especially supporting needed systems change – is often a key step in creating trust and building co-ownership between partners.  Not only are we investing in a specific program down the line, but we are investing up-front in the relationship that makes the program possible.


In sum, our approach to working with Tribes in our funding region has evolved since 2010, with the formation of our Rural Aging Services Initiative and with the new funding opportunities it created.  Our commitment to shared results, community engagement, and sustainability remains, but these components take on different meaning in strengthening established partnerships and creating new relationships with Tribes.  Especially in these communities, investing in results means investing in relationships, and we are starting already to see the positive effects these relationships are having on the ground.  We are excited to continue these collaborations, working together to make Eastern Washington the state’s healthiest region.

About the Rural Aging Services Initiative:

EHF’s Rural Aging Services Initiative kicked off in 2014, with the sole purpose of assisting seniors in rural Eastern Washington live full, meaningful lives with dignity and independence.  As part of the Foundation’s efforts to improve health outcomes in our region, the program serves Adams, Ferry, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, and Whitman Counties, as well as the Colville, Kalispel, and Spokane Indian Reservations.