By Ryan Michaels
The Birmingham Times
Like most agencies and non-profits that provide services to residents, Jefferson County’s Area Agency on Aging (AAA), has faced challenges with COVID-19 pandemic and now the Delta Variant.
For instance, the Meals on Wheels program, which serves over 1,000 people in Jefferson County, has been cut from daily to weekly. However, the services have actually increased during the pandemic when the agency initially delivered seven days worth of frozen meals one day a week. While they didn’t see the clients as often, clients received more food.
Long term care ombudsman Sheree Head said that hasn’t stopped volunteers from giving their all.
“We only see the individuals once a week, but we give them an opportunity to still have contact with someone on a regular basis,” Head said, “and we can see how they’re doing and know what’s going on with those individuals.”
Because of the upswing in COVID-19 cases from the Delta variant, Head said AAA is concerned not only with the health of those they serve but also with the organization’s volunteers.
“With [the Delta variant], it’s making it much harder for us because a lot of our volunteers are seniors themselves,” she said. “We don’t want to put them in a situation where it hurts them more than it [helps] the other individual.”
The food programs, Head said, are particularly important because they give seniors an opportunity to socialize with others. For instance, the Senior Nutrition Program provides meals directly to all 26 of the senior centers in Jefferson County, where eating in group settings isn’t as common as it was before the pandemic.
“[Socializing] is a very big thing, but especially our senior nutrition program, because part of their whole thing is getting out of the house and around other people to communicate and see other people and to talk to other people because that social interaction is very important,” Head said. “The longer any individual is isolated, it takes a toll on them mentally and physically.”
While multiple senior centers have begun only serving the meals through pick-up options, AAA has also tried other avenues to reach seniors. For example, the organization previously provided Tai Chi classes at senior centers, but they’ve now moved them online.
“[The Tai Chi] kind of helps center that individual, as well as get them some physical activity, and some interaction with other people,” said Head, who added that it is difficult to get seniors to engage with virtual programs, but more are involved than some might think.
“[Getting seniors online] has been a challenge because a lot of our population is not tech savvy, but you’d be surprised at how many of them are,” Head said, “or how many of them have grandkids who they know to call to help them with those things.”
Still, there is a segment of the population they don’t reach just because they’re either not tech savvy or don’t have access to electronics, she said.
Those individuals can call 1-800-AGE-LINE and the organization will find a way to help.
“Once we can get them through our call center, we can assess them for any of our programs that they may need assistance with,” Head said, “and a lot of times they walk away with assistance in multiple areas, rather than just the one the initial call was about.”
AAA also provides seniors with a variety of services including in-home care, their Alabama State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) program, which helps to place seniors with insurance or Medicare plans based on their needs, and their SenioRx program, which helps seniors find medicine at low or no cost.
For more, call 1-800-AGE-LINE or visit https://uwaaa.org for more information.
Updated on 9:06 a.m. on 9/2/2021 to clarify delivery of the Meals on Wheels program.
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