WESTBROOK — The University of New England hopes to open a free clinic as soon as this fall to provide dental care, physical therapy and social work for residents of Westbrook public housing.

The clinic at Larrabee Woods off Main Street will make a big difference for the 600 public housing residents, many of whom don’t have easy access to health care or are on small fixed incomes, said Westbrook Housing Executive Director Chris LaRoche. All residents of the city’s 15 housing developments will be eligible for the care.

University of New England’s Kelly Abrams, left, Tom Meuser, founding director of UNE CEAH, and Regi Robnett accept Gorham Savings Bank’s grant for the health clinic at Larrabee Woods in Westbrook. Contributed / University of New England

“Not all residents are on the same level of Medicare.” LaRoche said. “Some people can’t afford their heart medicines. Sometimes dental isn’t covered, and sometimes the elderly have dental issues they can’t care for because they can’t access the care.”

Basic services will be offered, but there is a potential for program additions and expansion in the future, he said.

UNE is also working on a telehealth program to provide residents with medical consultations.

“It is a win-win for our residents and the students who will get hands-on learning,” LaRoche said. “The telehealth program is especially important with the pandemic and some residents wanting to stay in and feel safe.”

The university hopes the pilot program in Westbrook will pave the way for similar programs elsewhere.

It’s innovative for a health agency center and public housing to have this integrated and collaborative relationship with a public-private housing organization,” said Tom Meuser, director for the UNE Center for Excellence in Aging and Health, who is also a clinical psychologist, applied gerontologist and Gerontological Society of America Fellow.

“The hope is that we will be able to get some funding support to show the value of this. It can be a model for others,” Meuser said.

Plans for the Westbrook program are underway, he said.

“This is happening, but whether this kicks off immediately in the fall or later I cannot say,” Meuser said.

All staff and residents will be vaccinated against COVID-19 by the time they set up shop, he said.

Gorham Savings Bank awarded Westbrook Housing Authority a $20,000 grant for the program.

“As a longtime supporter of Westbrook Housing Authority, Gorham Savings Bank is proud to play a small part in this innovative partnership which we believe will have a tremendously positive impact for both students and residents,” said President and CEO of Gorham Savings Bank Steve deCastro in a press release.

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