Case finder programs linking isolated older adults to community services

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About the project

Across Canada, community organizations offer services for older adults that help foster social connection. However, the very people who may benefit from these types of services may not know about them. Case finder models are an approach to identify and link older people to services that they may not have otherwise known about or accessed. Here we define case finders as professionals or community members who find/reach isolated older adults (e.g., pharmacists) and community connectors as professionals or community members who work closely with older adults to connect them with appropriate services and programs (e.g., social workers).

The aim of the study is to learn more about what case finder approaches are being used across Canada and specifically to better understand who the common case finders are (e.g., health professionals, other) and how they identify and refer socially isolated older adults. The methods for this study include interviews with community organizations and a scoping review of relevant research. This evidence brief outlines findings from interviews conducted with community organizations about their case finder model. Interviews were done with seven organizations across six provinces (AB, BC, MB, NB, ON, QC), August to September 2022. Organizations that are/were engaging in case finder approaches were identified through networking and website searches. Interviewees included executive directors, outreach workers and program directors.

Key findings

Variety of case finder models

  • Organizations are utilizing a variety of case finder approaches, with different funders (e.g., government, non-profit, grants), collaborators and protocols.
  • Common case finders include: healthcare professionals, outreach workers, trained community members, social services, family and self-referral.
  • Some organizations have developed training tools to help case finders or community connectors identify isolated adults; many have developed localized resources for referral.
  • A common model involves community connectors embedded in a non-profit organization that get referrals by case finders or community members.
    • Community connectors differ in the extent they do case finding and outreach.
    • Community connectors differ in the extent they primarily do system navigating versus one-on-one individualized support and follow-up.

Limited tracking

  • Tracking and evaluation is limited.
  • Currently more emphasis is placed on community connector training and tracking compared to case finders; less is known about how case finders are trained to identify people.

Research implications

  • Evaluation research is needed around training and the experiences of case finders.
  • Evaluation research is needed to track referrals and determine if case finder programs lead to reductions in social isolation and what the experiences are of older adults who are referred and connected to services.

Policy implications

Based on interviews with organizations across Canada, several program and policy implications are emerging:

Supporting Community Collaborations: Case finder approaches involve interprofessional and interorganization collaborations to link socially isolated older adults to appropriate services.

  • Policies are needed to help support collaboration across organizations and services and to bridge silos.

Providing Sustainable Funding and Support: Funding of case finder approaches is variable and can be short-term and therefore may not be sustainable.

  • Ongoing financial support is needed to help sustain these approaches over the long term.

Facilitating Knowledge-Sharing: Organizations are developing case finder programs that are necessarily suited to their particular community needs; however, knowledge around collaborations, protocols and training could be transferable to other regions.

  • Creating a community of practice, for example, has the potential to reduce the amount of time and money spent in creating similar models across Canada.

Further information

Read the full report

Contact the researchers

Nancy Newall, PhD, associate professor, Psychology Department, Faculty of Science, Brandon University:

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