Life with COVID-19 is hard for everyone, but Council on Aging (COA) has been working to serve one of our community’s most vulnerable groups: older adults. This work has been made easier thanks to the generous support of donors, volunteers, and partner organizations.
More than 183,000 people age 65 and older live in southwestern Ohio and COA’s mission is to help them stay independent in their homes. Through services including home-delivered meals, personal care, medical transportation, and more, COA serves more than 26,000 individuals annually.
“We are all experiencing the effects of the pandemic,” says COA CEO Suzanne Burke. “But COVID-19 has made older adults in our community feel especially vulnerable, anxious, and isolated.”
And for good reason: Older adults are among the groups most at-risk for complications from COVID-19. In fact, as the virus spread in Ohio, a trend emerged: People age 60 and older account for more than 60 percent of coronavirus-related hospitalizations and more than 90 percent of deaths. Realizing the impact COVID-19 could have on older adults, COA began preparing in January.
“We learned from past emergency situations that food quickly becomes an urgent need for older adults,” Burke says. “We didn’t want supply chain or staffing issues to interfere with our ability to provide meals to older adults, and we knew that they might be asked to shelter-in-place for quite a while.”
COA’s intuition was spot on. When Ohio Governor Mike DeWine issued the stay-at-home order in March, COA began hearing from older adults who were afraid to go out for groceries and other necessities. Others found themselves without their regular support network. Many who contacted COA had never before needed help.
Working with its network of more than 200 service providers, COA quickly adapted meal services. COA service providers delivered 15,000 emergency food boxes to home-delivered meals recipients. Seniors who previously attended congregate meals began receiving “carry out” meals and more than 500 additional older adults were enrolled onto the home-delivered meals program due to the pandemic.
The pandemic created opportunities for COA to partner with new organizations and volunteers. Working with Crossroads Church, Frame USA, Matthew 25: Ministries, and local churches and community groups, COA collected and distributed donated household and personal care supplies to older adults. And as supplies arrived in our region via county emergency management agencies, COA helped distribute them to older adults and service providers.
As the pandemic continued, COA sought ways to provide comfort, as well as support. Volunteers made weekly wellness calls to older adults and the agency shares resources via its online channels to help fight social isolation. A special COVID-19 weekly e-newsletter has been a popular resource for people looking for credible information and garnered recognition from the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging.
After receiving funding to expand meal service during the pandemic, COA developed partnerships with local restaurants including LaRosa’s, Taste of Belgium, and Frisch’s to provide special meals to older adults living in low-income apartment buildings. Nearly 15,000 such meals have been delivered across southwestern Ohio through this partnership, with COA service providers Cincinnati Area Senior Services and Meals on Wheels of SWO & NKY managing the bulk of the deliveries. Thank you notes and voicemails have streamed in from grateful older adults who’d felt forgotten and depressed by the monotony of the pandemic.
Recognized as a national expert in helping older adults navigate care transitions, COA worked alongside hospital leaders and emergency management personnel to plan for a surge of patients discharging home from area hospitals and nursing homes; COA is also leading a local work group focused on limiting COVID-19’s spread in senior apartment buildings. Throughout the summer, COA will distribute masks, education materials, and other coronavirus prevention items to older adults across the region, including to residents of senior apartment buildings and COA clients.
Ohio is slowly reopening, but COA remains focused on the pandemic’s long-term impact on older adults. “Older adults will continue to feel the impact of this virus; they remain vulnerable,” Burke stresses. She says her agency is still in response mode and is exploring how technology can help staff and providers establish a new “normal” for serving our region’s older adults.
Older adults who need help because of COVID-19 should contact Council on Aging at (513) 721-1025 or www.help4seniors.org. Council on Aging is the state-designated Area Agency on Aging serving Butler, Clermont, Clinton, Hamilton, and Warren counties.
Council on Aging would like to thank the following donors and volunteers for their help in serving older adults during this pandemic:
United Way of Greater Cincinnati
Greater Cincinnati Foundation
Aetna Better Health of Ohio
Duke Energy Foundation
Amitesh and Arnil Verma
And countless others who’ve made a difference, including:
Blanchester Senior Community Collaborative
Lakota Hills Baptist Church
Wyoming Recreation Foundation
People Working Cooperatively
Matthew 25: Ministries
Greater Bethlehem Church