A New Reality for Seniors and Those who Care for Them
Health. Safety. Welfare. That’s what we’ve been trained as Senior Center directors to ensure; the health, safety and welfare of all our clients. We do this with every home delivered meal we drop off, each telephone call, each home visit, every program we drop in on – we even do it while socializing with them over a cup of coffee. It’s usually just a conversation, “How’ve you been? Everything been going okay? How’s the family? How’s your health? Anything you need from us?” Most of the time, things are good, and the conversations lead to happy discussions about hobbies and grandkids. But every now and then, they’re not. Sometimes they’ve gotten frightening health news, or suffered a loss in the family. Sometimes, it’s more complicated, and we pool resources from the community to help out. That’s what we’re here for. To help. But this Coronavirus – this COVID-19. We Senior Center directors, are at war with it, rest assured we are. It’s threatening the very population most of us in the GRADD region have given decades of our lives to serving and we’re fighting back!
March 13, 2020. That was the day the seven counties of the GRADD district learned we would be doing things differently than we’d ever done them before. Meals would continue, but now as a grab-and-go, and traditional activities would cease. Each director had to make his or her own plan of what that would look like. In a matter of hours, we designed a plan for each of our counties that worked uniquely for us. Monday the 16th came, and her tagalong, Reality, right behind her. What a horrible dose that was — to realize that our only contact with our seniors for an unknown amount of time would now be over the telephone and through a car window.
I’m not sure any of us actually grasped that reality until mid-week when Melissa Polites, Director of Union County Senior Services made a Facebook post, and in it she said, “We aren’t medical professionals, grocery store owners, truck drivers, or farmers…but we are on the front lines and in the trenches nonetheless…to keep our most vulnerable population safe. Keep them calm. Keep them fed. Keep them in supplies. Keep them healthy. All the while, ensuring the buildings these people love and use every day, are clean and safe for them to return to….Trying to stay one step ahead of what may come down the pipe next. As much as we may want to block it out…there’s too much at stake to do that.” Too much at stake. Lives.
I should back up and share that the seven of us Senior Center directors and our management staff meet monthly at GRADD with their staff to share ideas, get any directives from the Department of Aging and Independent Living, and receive input on new programs and services we may want to offer our seniors. We problem-solve together, and share a strong voice as a unit when we advocate for our seniors in Frankfort on various issues like funding, or regulations. In recent weeks, additional funding was authorized to serve meals to numbers of clients that we hadn’t experienced in more years than I can recall, and overnight we found ourselves building meal routes of dozens of new clients each day into our databases so that we can ensure they receive a meal in the safety of their homes. Most that would have likely waited years on a list to have received that meal are now enjoying them. It’s unfortunate it took this virus, but if anything good came of it, we all agree, serving clients on our waiting lists is probably one of the best.
When I reached out to my colleagues, we agreed that there’s been another positive in all this and it is the pride our teams have. It’s been tremendous to see them so willing to do extra…to BE extra. Their mantra, “We’re Home Delivered Meals drivers and we take care of seniors every single day. We’re well-trained, and well-equipped.” Every day these magnificent people go into homes and make sure clients are cared for and cared about.
Our office teams keep all the plates spinning. They organize the selfless volunteers who have rushed to help, the mounds of paperwork required to track everything, and they double as drivers when needed.
We, as directors wanted to share with you what we’ve learned about ourselves, about our communities, and about our seniors, too.
Turns out I’m a hugger after all. Air hugs just aren’t enough when you haven’t seen someone in weeks and they show up with a bouquet of daffodils for you in the drive thru for a congregate lunch. It’s also nearly impossible to keep your hands away from your face when you’re crying.
We have more compassion now for our home delivered clients than ever before. We wait all morning with excitement to see our lunch folks – and then as quickly as they arrive, they’re gone again. How important our visits and calls must be!
Isolation is harmful. COVID-19 is doing its very best to harm us all with it — particularly our seniors. We directors have pulled our teams together to develop some virtual programming to keep our seniors engaged through our Facebook Live posts (thank goodness for technology!) our fun kits we send home, the calls we make, and through our websites. We’re trying to ensure they feel a sense of community with each partnership, donation, and smile.
Mental health is critical — for us and for them. I asked one of our seniors who have experienced one of the worst possible losses in the midst of this crisis — the loss of her spouse — what she is doing to care for herself. She told me while it certainly hasn’t been easy, she offered these tips:
- Try to keep yourself busy with something you enjoy.
- Pets are a wonderful help.
- Call your friends — as often as you want — they really are as grateful to talk to you as you are to them.
- Ask your friends to help you, or ask if you can help them with a project – it keeps you both busy! If they have a special talent, and that is something you can use, ask them to help, for example, if they can sew, have them work on something you might need done. For her, it was having her friend make a quilt out of her spouse’s t-shirts.
- Do your best to stay healthy – eat well and try and get some exercise each day. It helps the depression.
- Never be hesitant to seek professional help if it becomes overwhelming.
- Meditate – Pray – Take quiet time to breathe and let your mind and body rest.
A place for our seniors to congregate is absolutely necessary. Not only to stave off isolation, but also to have a place to build relationships, belong, share short stories and tall tales, a place to maintain physical health as well as mental, where each person they encounter is a friend or at least an acquaintance because introducing yourself to new people is hard for many. A senior center is a place where friends are abundant and like-mindedness is easy to come by. It changes lives. It saves lives.
I asked some seniors how they felt about all this – if they were scared. Most were scared their children and grandchildren would become ill more so than themselves. Some shared that they had more appreciation for what homebound folks went through now that they couldn’t just hop in the car and go get the things they needed or wanted. Each and every one of them said what they missed the most was the company — socializing.
Our communities have answered the call in ways too numerous to list, but we agree they’ve brought us to our knees with their generosity.
“What do you hope comes from this?” I asked my aunt. “I hope it’ll be a big eye-opener for a lot of people,” she said. “Because seniors are precious. Just precious.”
For me, and for my fellow directors, I think it has been an eye-opener. Why do we do it? Health. Safety. Welfare. It’s what we ask them, but to us, it’s an oath.