Exciting projects are happening all over Maine on issues from services for seniors to quality health care in rural areas.

In April I attended an “Age-Friendly Regional Get-Together” at the Kents Hill Methodist Church, where we spent five hours with speakers from AARP. I was astonished by the many programs and projects that this wonderful organization is doing throughout our state.

For example, they are now working with 51 Maine cities and towns through their Network of Age-Friendly Communities, including Augusta and Readfield. I was very pleased to hear that they are focusing more attention now on rural towns.

I especially like Readfield’s Handy Helpers project, where volunteers from the local Masonic Lodge and the men’s group at the Methodist Church help with everything from changing light bulbs to hauling trash.

AARP also offers grants, one of which is designed to create vibrant public places, and another to encourage age-friendly housing. There are projects that provide adaptive tools for everyday living, and a public safety program to prevent fire, falls, and fraud. One project even sends someone to your home to check your fire alarms and puts up new ones where needed.

You can learn about these and many other projects, and step up to volunteer in your own community, at www.aarp.org/me or by calling 1-866-554-5380.

The Quality Counts conference at the Augusta Civic Center in April was also inspiring, starting with two young men, Matthew Braun and Jesse Harvey, who were recognized for overcoming drug dependencies and working publicly to help others who suffer addictions.

Matthew is a certified recovery coach, chapter lead for Young People in Recovery, and pursuing a degree in osteopathic medicine. Jesse is the peer support coordinator at Greater Portland Health and chapter lead for Portland’s Young People in Recovery, as well as founder of Journey House Sober Living.

Darren Ripley also was honored for the work of his Maine Alliance for Addiction Recovery. Darren has facilitated 22 recovery coach training sessions and helped develop the MAAR recovery app that helps providers and organizations locate resources for patients around addiction recovery.

The mission of Maine Quality Counts is to transform health and health care in Maine by leading, collaborating, and aligning improvement efforts — very ambitious and important. The lengthy list of Quality Counts projects and achievements is impressive, from the Chronic Disease Improvement Collaborative, which has connected 90 rural primary care health professionals with educational resources and presentations from experts, to Choosing Wisely, an initiative that promotes patient-physician conversations about unnecessary medical tests and procedures. A lot of their work is focused on educating and helping our health care providers.

They are one of 29 health care collaborative networks selected by the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Innovation to participate in the Transforming Clinical Practice Initiative, a national effort to help clinicians achieve large-scale healthcare transformation in primary and specialty care practice settings.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Sanjeev Arora, told us about his astonishing project, called Echo, which started in New Mexico and has now spread worldwide. Dr. Arora developed Echo as a way to dramatically improve both capacity and access to specialty care for rural and underserved people. Much of this is achieved through “teleEcho” clinics that help rural clinicians develop knowledge and self-sufficiency so they can adopt research findings and deliver best-care practices.

Echo is now in 115 academic medical centers in 23 countries, and I was very pleased to learn that Maine’s Quality Counts program is a participant.

I chose to attend the conference to see my brother Gordon and other leaders of the Maine Medical Association receive an award for their advocacy, outreach, and education in the areas of prescription drug diversion, opioid street drugs, and substance abuse disorders.

A breakout session on addressing health care affordability, presented by our own Elizabeth Mitchell, was very informative. After growing up in our area, Elizabeth has worked on these issues all over the world. She is currently president and CEO of Network for Regional Healthcare Improvement.

Quality Counts Executive Director Larry Clifford, in his opening remarks, thanked those who packed the Augusta Civic Center for this conference for helping to build communities of practice through innovation.

“I can tell you this,” he said. “The great work we’ve been doing in New England has not gone unnoticed by the federal government and private funders and foundations. I anticipate there will be many opportunities for practice transformation and quality improvement in the coming months, and I challenge all of us to figure out how we’re going to coalesce and sustain those efforts over time.”

An important challenge for a great transformative project.

George Smith can be reached at 34 Blake Hill Road, Mount Vernon, ME 04352, or [email protected]. Read more of Smith’s writings at www.georgesmithmaine.com.

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