Students helping to make Portland more age friendly

Suki Liang assists a respondent filling out the survey at the Salvation Army in Portland
Suki Liang assists a respondent filling out the survey at the Salvation Army in Portland

Students in the Public Health Community Health Assessment class are helping to make the city of Portland more age friendly for older adults by putting together a survey and gathering data from the city’s older population.

Bethany Fortier, M.P.H., CHES, associate clinical professor of Public Health within the School of Nursing and Population Health, teaches the course.

“I look to have a community project component for the class so that the students have an opportunity to apply the skills they get in the classroom to real life assessments and projects,” Fortier stated.

Fortier worked with Tom Meuser, Ph.D., director of the Center for Excellence in Aging and Health (CEAH), to get the students involved. Meuser is on the advisory committee for Age Friendly Portland.

In 2015, Portland became the first Maine city to join the AARP network of Age Friendly Communities. The AARP model asks participating communities to measure age-friendliness across eight domains of livability: outdoor spaces and buildings; transportation; housing; social participation; respect and social inclusion; work and civic engagement; communication and information; and community and health services.

Six students, Suki Liang (Nursing, ’23), Owen Nelson (Public Health, ’22), Amanda Gagne (Public Health, ’22), Natalie Gray (Public Health, ’23), Tommye Wall (Political Science, ’23), andSydney Trask (Environmental Studies, ’23), helped develop the survey based on those criteria. They are also helping Portland residents age 60 and over fill them out.

Liang recently visited the Salvation Army in Portland to assist clients with the survey.

“Most of the population that I work with in my clinical settings is older adults,” she explained. “So, to hear their perspective and to work with them out in the community, rather than just in a hospital setting, is great. You get to meet them in a different environment, hear their opinions and the different things they have to say about what's going on.”

An initial survey was conducted in 2015. The information gathered in that assessment was used to create a five-year action plan for the Age Friendly Portland Initiative. Data collected in this new survey will be used to make necessary revisions and set additional goals for the next five years.

Linda Weare, LSW, director of the Portland Office of Elder Affairs, heads up Age Friendly Portland. She says the work the students have put into this has been crucial for the project.

“Having the students adapt questions for the survey and assist with outreach to older participants has been critical to making this project happen in a timely manner,” Weare commented. “The faculty and research partners at UNE have done an amazing job getting the survey ready to roll out as an easy-to-use, anonymous data collecting tool.”

Organizers of the survey have a lofty goal of getting 500 people to participate. So far, they have collected surveys from 170 respondents.

The project has already been a success for the UNE students involved.

“I think the students can take away a sense of pride that they were able to assist in a real-life project,” said Fortier. “They can also take away some tangible skills and lessons learned about how to implement an assessment, be able to analyze the data, and to make recommendations based on the results.”