Senior Advisory Committee looks to expand programs

Thu, 11/04/2021 - 2:45pm

The Senior Advisory Committee is excited about several ideas to improve the quality of life for the island’s senior residents. One of the “most needed” services is that of certified nursing assistants (CNA). Like most other essential services, however, finding qualified candidates can be tricky. Transportation and housing difficulties have made it hard to find qualified caregivers for seniors on the island. Co-Chairs Sandra Kelly and Gail Pierce sat down with The Times recently to describe the problem.

While many wonderful people on Block Island provide care and support for seniors in their homes, only certified CNAs are covered by most insurance plans. Kelly and Pierce said that many people have insurance that will cover in-home care, but only if the provider is a certified CNA. The co-chairs said they had “attempted to contact caregiver agencies on the mainland,” to set up sending over CNAs, but “housing is a problem.”

But the SAC has a plan: “We hope to train island people,” Kelly said.

In her Senior Coordinator's report, Gloria Redlich discussed the idea of covering the tuition of two Block Islanders to take the CNA program offered at the Community College of Rhode Island. It is a 13-week course, with a mix of online learning and one day a week of in-person classes. There is also a week-long training session in a nursing home at the end of the course.
“The caveat is that they’ll work for two years on the island,” Kelly noted. Seniors on the island are in need of everything from health checks to running errands, from help with cooking to plain old companionship. She says the island could use four to six certified CNAs, but they would start with two.

In addition to the tuition, which Pierce says the SAC may have already secured a donation for, the committee would like to  help the potential students with travel, food, and books. Redlich reports she is working on the logistics of the operation.
Another plan the SAC is working on is creating a senior center in the Community Center. The idea is to have a staff person positioned at the community center for a couple of days a week from 9 a.m. until noon, to facilitate senior gatherings. Isolation is a problem for seniors on the island, according to the SAC, so providing a space that can have programs, discussion groups, games, education and physical activity on a regular basis is important. The part-time staff would be responsible for setup, cleanup, light snacks and beverages, and general facilitation of the programs.

The SAC hopes to use the senior ride program to bring people to and from the activities, if they are able to get the senior center up and running. A couple of taxi drivers on the island have agreed to help out with the senior ride program, which Kelly reports has some money still available for the winter. During the summer, the program is basically suspended as the taxi drivers are too swamped with tourist season to be able to keep up with it.
This fall and winter, the SAC will be sponsoring monthly senior health checks, including blood pressure screening, heart rate, pulse oxygen level, medication questions, nutrition, weight management, and general health concerns. South County Home Health will send a nurse to perform the one-on-one consultations. The first clinic is Monday, November 15. Appointments are in 15-minute increments and can be
made through Gloria Redlich at or 401-486-9278.