Auntie Diluviana: Taking care of seniors

May 22, 2014

Photo courtesy George Hodan

Dear Auntie,

I hear that Hyattsville Aging in Place (HAP) wants the city to include a full-time senior services coordinator in its next budget. Why does Hyattsville need such a position? Doesn’t HAP take care of old people?

Puzzled on Powhatan

 

Auntie Diluviana

Auntie Diluviana

Dear Puzzled,

Emily Stowers, who has served the city well as a senior services coordinator for two years, left her post earlier this year to move to Florida. Emily did a great job but was limited in what she could do because she was only a part-time worker.

HAP believes that a full-time senior services coordinator can lead Hyattsville into the new day, now bearing down on us, when an aging populations chooses to stay longer in their homes rather than moving to retirement communities.  The baby boomers started turning 65 last year and are ushering in what Governing magazine calls “a seismic demographic shift unlike anything in [America’s] history.” The effect will be felt not only in federal entitlement programs, such as Social Security and Medicare, but also by local governments. (You can read the magazine’s series on aging in America online

An aging population needs certain services. HAP wants the senior services coordinator to work with city departments to ensure that policies are fair and take into consideration the needs of our oldest residents. For example, they might advocate street crossing lights that are long enough for slower walkers to get across the streets.

HAP would also like to see the city take the lead in providing a wider range of health and wellness services, such as health fairs geared to the elderly; an expansion of intergenerational activities where seniors can offer classes or mentor younger people; and extending communications to make sure that older people know what services are available.

“Hyattsville should stay in the forefront of building an age-friendly city,” HAP chair Lisa Walker told the city council at a recent budget meeting. “Around the metropolitan area, Hyattsville has been recognized and applauded for taking steps to support senior services. Let’s extend that reputation.”

HAP would also like to see the city extend the program of referring seniors in need to more intensive services that a volunteer organization such as HAP is unable to provide. A full-time senior services coordinator at city hall “could assess the situation and find out which services are necessary,“ Walker said. Those services “could be as little as having someone over twice a week for light housekeeping or as much as having someone prepare meals four or five days a week.”

There are needs Hyattsville hasn’t planned for, Walker said, as this winter’s snowstorms demonstrated. Some of those who received warnings about clearing their sidewalks were older residents, disabled, on limited incomes – or all three.

“HAP volunteers shoveled snow for near shut-ins who never could have shoveled snow themselves,” Walker told me.

Safety is a concern for many seniors who live alone and have no family members nearby who can check on them on a regular basis. “Just getting down steps is risky and using the Call-a-Bus is, sadly, not an option if you can’t get around on your own,” she said.

Clearly there is a need for senior services. In its first 12 months of taking service requests, HAP responded to 153 such requests. Of those, 104 were rides to doctor’s appointments. But other requests have been for yard work, snow shoveling, shopping and prescription pickup, telephone and computer assistance, and minor home repairs.

“HAP is sort of the first line – occasional assistance and a friendly ear, “Walker said. “There has to be something else between that and assisted living.”

The city council expects to decide whether or not to have a full-time senior services coordinator when it approves the budget, which is scheduled to happen by the end of May.