BERLIN – Social isolation. Food insecurity. Financial worry.
Those are some of the issues local agencies are trying to address as senior citizens remain in their homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
On March 16, the Worcester County Commission on Aging closed its senior centers and adult medical daycare in response to the novel coronavirus outbreak.
For many, the senior centers and adult daycare provide a place for social connection and physical and emotional wellbeing. But Executive Director Rob Hart said the agency will continue to provide clients with meal services, in-home care and wellness calls.
“Because some of our programs are not operating, we are reallocating staff and costs to better serve the community,” he said.
Older adults and people with underlying medical conditions are believed to be at a higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In the U.S., eight out of 10 coronavirus-related deaths are in adults ages 65 and older.
To that end, health officials are encouraging people to take action to reduce their exposure to COVID-19.
“One of our jobs is to get senior citizens out and into the community,” Hart said. “Now we are telling them the exact opposite. It’s a unique situation we are dealing with.”
During this time, staff at the Worcester County Commission on Aging are reaching out to hundreds of clients each day.
“That’s approximately 600 senior center members we are calling twice a week,” Hart said. “For the adult daycare, we are calling people every day, seven days a week.”
In addition to weekly wellness calls, Hart said the Worcester County Commission on Aging continues to offer its Community for Life program, albeit with a few modifications.
“For those members, we continue to transport them to doctor’s appointments only,” he said. “If the need groceries, we are picking it up for them.”
With many older adults now housebound, Hart said the agency’s Meals on Wheels program has expanded. In an interview last week, he explained program participation was expected to double in the coming days.
“That’s not a bad thing because we want them to stay in the house …,” he said. “We typically run food to between 50 and 60 clients. By Monday (of last week), we should have over 100.”
Patti Tingle, executive director of MAC Inc. Area Agency on Aging, said the agency also anticipates an increase in Meals on Wheels participations.
“What we are finding is many seniors, regardless of their income, are fearful of leaving their homes to get the supplies that they need …,” she said. “For others, it’s a matter of transportation.”
Earlier this month, MAC Inc. closed its senior centers and adult medical day centers to the public. The agency is also using weekly phone calls to connect with clients.
“We want them to know we are still here,” she said.
Officials said weekly phone calls have been invaluable for the agencies. For example, Tingle said those with concerns about food, supplies or finances are directed to the appropriate resources.
“One of the biggest complaints we hear is the grocery stores don’t have what they need …,” Hart added. “We have started storing some supplies, like toilet paper, paper towels and sanitizing soaps, that are at our sites. If they are out of those supplies, we will deliver it to them and they reimburse us.”
Although facilities are closed to the public, officials with both agencies said staff will be available to answer phone calls and assist the senior community.
For more information on the Worcester County Commission on Aging, visit www.worcoa.org or call 410-632-1277.
For more information on MAC Inc., visit www.macinc.org or call 410-742-0505.