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Amid COVID-19 fears, groups step up to aid seniors

This article originally appeared in the Jefferson City News Tribune. READ THE FULL STORY ONLINE: News Tribune Website

Concerns surrounding the spread of COVID-19 have led to closures across the country — some particularly affecting senior citizens, as social events and meal programs shut down.

A group of local organizations is working together to make sure seniors in the Mid-Missouri area still receive the resources they need.

Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri, Aging Best, and the Food Bank of Central and Northeast Missouri are partnering to bring food to food pantries in the region.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended the suspension of public gatherings of 50 or more people. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson echoed the CDC’s guidance Sunday.ADVERTISING

The disease caused by the novel coronavirus, which presents with coughing and fever, as well as occasional shortness of breath, can be fatal in the elderly. The CDC and Parson recommended “facilities that attract large concentrations of senior citizens strongly consider restrictions and closures.”

To comply with the guidelines while still providing what they can to seniors in the region, the local charities created a plan to bring available food to those who need it.

The organizations already had relationships, said Rebecca Nowlin, chief executive officer of Aging Best. So when the issue of providing food presented, it made sense to partner, she said.

“Our current practices are changing right now, but our missions are the same,” Nowlin said. “How do we get creative and innovative, temporarily, to look at these problems from a new angle?”

The food banks had the food, Catholic Charities had the trucks and staff, and Aging Best had a connection with residents — a perfect setup to bring food to the population most vulnerable to the virus.

Once the food is delivered to a few Aging Best centers in Jefferson City, Eldon and Columbia, Aging Best will distribute the food to seniors at their homes.

“It just seemed like a perfect way for us to collaborate to make sure folks who are really vulnerable are getting access to the basic necessities that they need,” said Dan Lester, executive director for the regional Catholic Charities.

Lester said his organization is trying to continue serving communities in the safest way possible for those they are serving and their volunteers.

“If there’s a critical need with someone we’re serving, we’re still going to find a way to make sure that critical need is met, and if that means that we need to be going out, doing community supportive services, we’ll do that,” Lester said.

For more information on what Catholic Charities is doing, and for other resources, visit cccnmo.diojeffcity.org.

The Cole County Senior Nutrition Program, which normally provides meals and social events for area seniors, announced via Facebook on Monday the West Point Senior Center and the Clarke Senior Center in Jefferson City will not host any activities until further notice.

The program also announced both centers will serve hot curbside lunches at the usual time, 11 a.m.-12:30 p.m., to reduce contact between residents while still providing meals.

The two centers are partnered with Aging Best, formerly Central Missouri Area Agency on Aging. Aging Best also announced Monday it would suspend the congregate meal program and activities at all partner senior centers.

“The population that we work with every day is the most vulnerable; we know that,” Nowlin said. “We know there are a lot of people who come to our senior centers to enrich their already full lives, but there’s others who come because we are their social net.”

Nowlin said suspending programs for seniors puts them at risk for social isolation.

“For some people who are very old and frail, it can be so disorienting, and they can kind of lose touch,” she said. “That happens very quickly, and then despair sets in. The fear of trying to balance the current health concerns with the concerns about social isolation, it’s very real. It’s not just, ‘I’m going to be bored or even lonely,’ it becomes a real crisis for people.”

Suspension will continue through March 31, at which time Aging Best will reevaluate the situation.

Affected centers include the two in Jefferson City, Fulton Senior Center, Eldon Senior Center, California Nutrition Center, Tipton Senior Center, Versailles Nutrition Site and Westside Senior Center, as well as others throughout the region.

Aging Best is also asking for donations of non-perishable foods, cleaning supplies, hygiene supplies, games, books, magazines, crossword puzzles, yarn for knitting and crocheting, and other activities for the seniors to combat fear and isolation.

Donations will be accepted at Aging Best administrative offices at 1616 Southridge Drive, Suite 203, in Jefferson City and 1121 Business Loop 70 East, Suite 2A, in Columbia.

Visitors

The Jefferson City Housing Authority owns and operates independent living facilities for seniors — Robert Hyder Apartments, Ted Herron Apartments, Kenneth Locke Apartments and LaSalette Apartments, as well as the Dulle and Hamilton Towers.

Housing Authority Executive Director Cynthia Quetsch said they are not prohibiting visitors at this time but are asking sick individuals not to enter the facilities and have asked residents not to bring in sick visitors.

Primrose Retirement Community of Jefferson City, which provides assisted living, is limiting access to employees, essential third-party medical providers and family members during certain situations such as end-of-life care, according to its website. Family members will be required to wear masks and will be limited to the resident’s apartment.

They are encouraging other contact such as phone calls and video chat.

Auburn Ridge Living Center in Wardsville is also restricting visitors at this time for the protection of residents. Non-essential visitors such as family and friends will not be allowed inside, and neither will occasional guests such as performers, pastors or the hair stylist who typically visits once a week.

Gina Huckstep, director of the center, said they are doing what they can to make sure residents stay healthy but not isolated.

“It’s mentally exhausting because if they’re stuck in the rooms, they’re just isolated from everybody,” Huckstep said. “It’s not fair for them to have to isolate themselves, but I also have to worry about their health, too.”

They are still having community meals and activities such as crafts, but with only two residents to a table to keep them the recommended distance of 4-6 feet apart. Doctors are being contacted via phone or fax with any health concerns, and staff take the residents’ temperatures before each meal to check for fever.

They are also encouraging other means of visiting or contact like phone calls and writing letters.