Senior services continue despite pandemic

Thu, 02/18/2021 - 5:45pm
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During the Senior Advisory Committee’s meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 16, Senior Coordinator Gloria Redlich updated the committee on the current programs and services available for the senior population on the island. Similar to many other organizations and groups that have had to adjust their programs and schedules to follow Covid-19 health regulations and protocols, SAC has had to make some adjustments.

“We, at SAC, and island seniors in general, have continued to navigate life under Covid-19 and on the whole we have done so patiently. By and large, we have followed state guidelines – masking, distancing and for the most part keeping a low profile,” said Redlich.

In her report, Redlich listed the ongoing programs and possible future activities: the monthly delivery of a luncheon to at least 60 senior households; virtual programs being offered through Zoom, such as Tai Chi with Physical Therapist Tom Hobin, and possible future virtual classes such as a seated strengthening exercise class with Robin Lewis; a virtual program with the Contemporary Theatre Co. of Wakefield, RI; a virtual workshop with the Alzheimer’s Association; the continuation of a Book Group series and a Memoir Writing Group; a new and popular program called “Wednesdays at 4 in Our Kitchens” streamed on the Island Free Library’s YouTube channel; and the continuation of two support groups led by Licensed Counselor Kerri Gaffett on caregiver support and for those living with loss. The Senior Ride Service also continues to operate.

“The pandemic year has forced us to look at the usual challenges of aging: isolation and loneliness,” said Redlich. “Clearly, with imposed isolation becoming a staple of daily life, SAC has been forced to find alternatives to the in-person programs we had always run. This is also consistent with our commitment to improve the quality of life for our seniors.”

An island demographics report presented by Human Services Director Maryann Seebeck showed a rough population estimate of 470 people 75 years and over on the island. Using the unofficial, Ground Hog Day Census of 1094 people as a base, 43 percent of the island population is over 75 years of age.

“We are obviously well over one-third of the population and growing in numbers,” said Redlich.

Redlich recently talked with Seebeck about assistance in seniors’ homes.

“[Seebeck] focused on something we have wanted to do for a long time – design a sustainable program for providing home care assistance in order to make it affordable and for all those who need it,” said Redlich. “We could find part-time people and patch together a schedule here and there with several people - even in an emergency - for someone to stay overnight with an island senior. However it is just patchwork at this time.”

Later in the meeting, Redlich suggested offering caregiver and home health aide training opportunities for the students at the Block Island School.

“I wanted to share with [Block Island School Principal] Kristine Monje perhaps [having] internships for juniors or seniors for general caregiving and expand our caregiving force on the island,” said Redlich.

Co-Chair Sandra Kelly agreed with the idea. “In many cases you need that home companion to service the needs,” she said.

Member Dottie Graham mentioned the possibility of giving a scholarship to a senior to help in training them. “I think that might be something to think about,” said Graham.

“Or a stipend for them in the training. A scholarship is a good idea,” said Redlich.

A separate department?

The committee discussed the idea of SAC becoming part of a larger, broader, town department of human services.

“If we feel strongly about having a separate department or agency, what would be the steps to take?” asked Co-Chair Gail Pierce.

“I think it starts with an advocacy, in a sense of bringing this to the town,” said Redlich. “We would have to present clearly the limitations of what we can do now, the demands upon the SAC. We started out as a group that was more an advocate [for] improving quality of life, but as the needs of the seniors have deepened and increased, we have recognized the limitations of resources,” said Redlich.

“We have been an advisory board since 2007. Almost every town or municipality has a whole department of human services,” said Kelly. “I think the time has come. The town needs to consider a department of human services that can incorporate other agencies that are already in the town. We are not going to have the answer now, but we should begin with a community meeting of our various agencies and see what the rest of the people think.”

Member Jennifer Phillips mentioned having a conversation recently with the president of the Block Island Residents Association, Joe Loya.

“I have been speaking with Joe Loya at BIRA and he and his group would love to support our efforts in the adult care endeavor. Once a year they have an event where they speak to something that the town needs, and I think that if we work with them, perhaps they can help our voice in presenting this. I think it would be great to discuss this with them,” said Phillips.

Phillips agreed to set up a meeting with Loya.

“I think it’s great another group wants to support us,” said Redlich.