Seniors Gain Crucial Assistance

Action for Older Persons Resource Center photo

Across our region, a powerful network has formed to help senior citizens. But when the Community Foundation conducted a needs assessment on the subject, we found that many elders don’t know that these services exist. Even when seniors who need help understand where to turn, it can be tough to navigate the maze of application forms and eligibility requirements.

As the Foundation makes grants to organizations that serve our elder neighbors, we plan to focus on that need for better outreach and assistance. We’ll also keep in mind other issues that challenge seniors in our communities.

One is a lack of geriatricians. When they see patients for checkups, doctors who specialize in senior care are more likely to zero in on problems such as dementia and depression. Given our aging population, our region urgently needs more health care professionals with this expertise.

Many of our neighbors want to stay in their homes as they age. But some of them lack the wherewithal to keep those homes in good repair. And older residents who live at home but don’t drive may suffer from isolation, or have trouble getting to the doctor or the grocery store.

In 2013, the Community Foundation made several grants to address the urgent needs of our elder citizens. For instance, the Dick and Marion Meltzer Fund awarded $15,000 to the Community Care Network of Nichols (CCNN) to expand its services into Tioga Center, Smithboro and Barton.

CCNN provides friendly visitors, friendly phone calls, transportation to appointments and information referrals for senior citizens. These services rely mainly on volunteers. The grant allowed CCNN to hire a program outreach assistant to establish the service in new areas, says Dot Richter, CCNN’s executive director. “She works with us to identify volunteers, train them, host community meetings and get the word out about our services for those who are not aware of what we can provide.”

The new communities have responded enthusiastically. CCNN had hoped to recruit ten volunteers by the end of 2013, but by early December the outreach assistant had already trained 16, Richter says. One nice aspect of the program, she adds, is that the same people may be clients of the service and volunteers at different points in their lives. “It’s a full circle.”

Another grant provided $14,506 to the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program, run by Binghamton-based Action for Older Persons (AOP). This money will help AOP advocate more effectively for individuals in long-term care and assisted living in Delaware County.

When someone in long-term care faces any sort of problem—if personal items go missing, for example, or if staff aren’t responding to requests for help—an AOP ombudsman represents that person and looks for a solution.

Rebecca Bradley, coordinator of AOP’s ombudsman program, used to serve all of Delaware County with help from just two local volunteer advocates. Thanks to the grant, she can now make multiple day trips from her office in Binghamton, helping her cover more ground in the largely-rural county.

Bradley’s extended presence also gives her a chance to train new volunteers, creating greater local impact. “Someone who lives close by can go into facilities on the weekends or perform audits at night,” she says.

As the ombudsmen step up their work in Delaware County, demand for the service is increasing, Bradley says. “We’re getting a lot more requests for advocacy. People are realizing how strongly the program can work for them.”

In Broome County, a $15,000 grant from the Harriet Ford Dickenson Fund is making it easier for more senior citizens to age in place.

Since 1989, the Broome County Home Repair Service for Seniors has helped low and moderate-income residents 55 and older with everything from fixing a light switch to restoring a sagging front porch. Residents pay for materials, but there’s no charge for labor.

“This fills a super-great need,” says Annettte Sullivan, program manager at the First Ward Action Council (FWAC), which runs the program.

More than a quarter of the homes in Broome County are owned by people 65 and older, Sullivan says. For individuals of modest means, and for people who can’t rely on family or neighbors to lend a hand, home maintenance poses a serious challenge. “You would not believe the letters we get sometimes from people who tell us, ‘I could not stay in my house without this program.’” she says.

When one traditional source of funding for the program dried up in 2013, the Dickenson Fund filled the gap.

Knowing there’s a service they can call to get help with repairs makes people feel a little
more empowered and helps them retain their sense of dignity, Sullivan says. “I think all of us have a better self image if we can feel that we are as independent as possible.”

As we have done and do now, the Community Foundation will continue to make well-considered grants in the future to address the needs of our growing senior population.

 

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