After collecting input from stakeholders, the Council on Aging recommended that Framingham, Mass., enhance and streamline services for older residents to more effectively support them during the pandemic — and in the future.
(TNS) — After collecting input from older residents and two dozen senior care organizations, the
Lack of easy access to information and technology among some seniors has compounded the isolation people are experiencing as they limit in-person contact with others to avoid contracting COVID-19, an illness that has more serious consequences for older people, the
To improve access, the
"There are always some people who don't want to use technology, but for those who do, we need to help them get and stay connected and overcome some of the adverse effects of isolation," said
Some of that work has already started.
Callahan Center Director
Some of the changes will accomplish elements of what
"It's a great idea to update the website," O'Donnell said, adding that the Callahan Center is considering hiring someone who has web design skills that could help make the site more robust and current.
Hall said the
"The logical thing to do in
O'Donnell said the Callahan Center is run by the
When it comes to internet access, Mayor
Those hotspots would essentially mean anyone within range would be able to log onto the internet for free, though they would need to have a smart device and know how to use it.
With the recent extension of the CARES Act, Spicer said, the city now has ongoing funding that could be used to get devices like ChromeBooks into the hands of more seniors who don't already have them.
The Callahan Center's ChromeBook program, which includes over-the-phone training opportunities for all seniors, not just those who qualify as low-income, was paid for in part using
RCN, an internet provider, has discounted internet plans that seniors can take advantage of, she added. People interested in learning more about those plans should call RCN.
O'Donnell said any programs that equip more seniors to use the web would benefit them socially, and help them participate in activities ranging from ordering food from local restaurants to telehealth visits.
"We're not trying to connect them just to the senior center. We're trying to connect them with their grandkids, their doctors," O'Donnell said.
But some people aren't interested in learning how to connect online, she said.
In prioritizing the improvement of senior services, the
Currently, different programs for seniors are offered by different city departments, including the city's library system, making it difficult for seniors to find relevant information in one location, Hall said.
"Independent department initiatives for seniors don't work as well as collaborative citywide initiatives for seniors with all of the stakeholders working together," Hall said. "We see it as a tremendous opportunity if all of these efforts come together under the umbrella of elder affairs to deliver the best outcomes for the seniors."
O'Donnell said she agrees that better communication among city departments about programs that impact shared constituencies — in her case, seniors — would benefit residents.
She gave one example. The city recently expanded its tax deferral program for seniors, and when O'Donnell learned of the expansion, she reached out to the Assessor's Office to learn more so she could advertise the information to older residents who could be eligible.
"That's the kind of conversations we should all be having," O'Donnell said. "That conversation might prompt the assessor to know to get in touch with me in the future (about programs that help seniors)."
But O'Donnell thinks inter-departmental communication can improve without formally placing all programs that touch seniors under her purview. She said there are benefits to having programs for seniors at places like the library.
Spicer said that while there is room for improvement, the pandemic has necessitated more collaboration among city departments to help seniors than happened before, and that certain departments have been better suited for different programs that benefit older people during this crisis.
She used the city's emergency food program as an example. Seniors can use that program, driven by the health department and nonprofit community partners, to get free food delivered to their homes, an important need while the coronavirus remains a risk.
"There is so much that is happening that didn't happen before as a result of COVID," Spicer said.
Most of the report's recommendations are aimed at mitigating the harmful effects of pandemic-induced isolation among seniors.
"What we started to see was a trend in how people felt that their health was being affected by isolation and fear of infection, and that people who had been physically active and involved were feeling like that lack of involvement, that lack of activity, that lack of participation with others was starting to take a toll on their health, both mentally and physically," Hall said.
"Someone said, 'I was very active and now I'm not, and I miss all of my activities and I feel unmotivated just sitting at home and it makes me sad,'" Hall remembered.
The survey also missed many seniors who aren't tapped into city government, senior organizations or the Callahan Center, Hall said. Those who haven't weighed in on how the pandemic has affected them should call the Callahan Center at 508-532-5980, Hall said.
"The more visibility that our efforts get, the more we can bring people in to share what their needs are and their experiences and hopefully then use that information to address those needs and experiences," she said.
Future reports could also break the 55-plus population down into more specific age groups, which often have different needs, Hall said.
Going forward, Hall said, the city should incorporate lessons learned during the pandemic into its senior services even after vaccinations place the virus in the rearview mirror.
"We may be looking for some quick wins that are short term, but there's also going to be kind of a new normal going forward and we need to transition into some long term solutions," Hall said. "This pandemic has brought many systemic issues to the surface, and we need to strengthen our weaknesses going forward in this new norm and build a new way of streamlining and reaching people and dealing with some of these systemic issues."
(c)2021 MetroWest Daily News, Framingham, Mass. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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