CARES program provides seniors in Clark County with valuable resources


Clark-Cowlitz Fire Rescue (CCFR) has served underserved populations, especially senior citizens, through its Community Assistance Referral and Education Services (CARES) program for the past two years.

The crew at CCFR uses the program as an alternative to situations where people don’t necessarily need a response from police or an ambulance.

“It’s an innovative model for mobile integrated health care looking at the right services for those that need it at the right time,” said community outreach coordinator Sam Lewis. “It could be anything from looking at advocacy, referral and education (or) minor health care services. Minor referrals could just be educating people on a process they’re going through such as getting on Medicaid or going through a hospice process.”

Lewis said CARES aims to “be the bridge” to gaps for services that are available in Clark County and southern Cowlitz County. 

Firefighter and paramedic Josh Haldeman said the crew helps identify individuals who don’t “fit the use” of the emergency medical service (EMS) systems. Those include people who were taken to a hospital but never heard from again.  

“Now we have this CARES program which is more of a post-EMS follow-up program to identify issues and dig into what these individuals need, as well as to stabilize them and give them the resources they need so that way they’re safe in our community and can thrive as well,” Haldeman said.

Part of the program, which is especially helpful for senior citizens, is “medication reconciliation,” which Haldeman said ensures people have consistent access to their medications and makes sure those individuals take them correctly. For people who have trouble organizing their medications, the crew offers medication boxes to help senior citizens keep them organized.  

Another thing the program helps with is preventing seniors from falls, which Haldeman said is the most common but preventable injury they see. As part of the process, the crew goes into people’s homes, evaluates any fall hazards, and takes note of any obstacles in the house for that individual. A few solutions include the installation of ramps, wall bars, and other assistive devices the senior may need.

Before the creation of the CARES program, Lewis said people would often call 911 when they fell or experienced other incidents that didn’t necessarily need to include the involvement of paramedics or law enforcement. The program acts as an alternative for those who need help on a less serious scale. 

Since its creation in 2020, the CARES team has expanded its outreach to places like PeaceHealth Southwest, Legacy Healthcare, the Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities of Southwest Washington, and Adult Protective Services. The program is funded primarily by the Southwest Washington Accountable Community of Health.

CCFR Division Chief Mike Jackson said the CARES team is in a network of partners who have helped people self-isolate during COVID-19 quarantines, while making sure those people had the resources they needed.  

“We’ve also been involved in delivering vaccines, especially to vulnerable populations, among other things,” Jackson said.

Since many senior citizens have lived in their homes for a long time, Haldeman said that seniors have created habits and systems that may not match with their current physical state like certain medical conditions they may now face. As a result, Haldeman and the rest of the crew aim to keep the seniors safe, while helping them live independently by giving them the tools they need to thrive. He said it provides a “fresh perspective” for any safety issues they identified. 

“That’s one of our big contributing factors throughout the county, which is finding those issues, mitigating what we can, and then helping connect them to resources that can help mitigate those emergencies if we’re not capable of doing it,” Haldeman said.

In addition to those services, they help seniors obtain durable medical equipment like oxygen machines and walking assistive devices. The team with the program helps educate seniors about the equipment they need. 

Since the CARES program started, Jackson said they were able to reduce the amount of non-applicable calls to 911 by 80%.

The direct line for the CARES program is 360-887-6237.