By Stephen Smoot
Last week, Beth Fitzgerald, Harrison County Senior Center executive director, joined colleagues from around the state at Canaan Valley Resort to learn and share how to meet the needs of seniors with an ever-shrinking base of resources.
Quote from Beth here
After two days of conference sessions and meetings, attendees enjoyed a “Seniors 101” presentation at the conference banquet given by the West Virginia Directors of Senior Center Services. Jennifer Brown, president of the organization, joined Janie Lew White, executive director of Preston County Senior Citizens Inc.
“We can talk about senior programs in our sleep,” Brown joked.
She then opened by explaining that the state’s senior centers “are efficient providers” of basic services that meet needs “even in the most remote parts of West Virginia.” Brown added that even though social recreation forms a key part of the offerings, the centers “are so much more than bingo. It’s a very small part of what we do.
White shared that senior centers had served the state in most areas “for 40 or 50 years or longer” and were established under the Older Americans Act of 1965. This legislation allowed for “multi-purpose senior centers as community focal points.”
She then described some of the challenges faced by centers today, starting with “we have a decent sized workforce that is barely meeting our needs,” but “needs to be 50 percent larger to prepare for what’s coming.”
Brown explained four major categories of services provided for seniors “operating on the narrowest of margins.”
These include nutrition programs, both at the centers and meals delivered to those who are homebound or face mobility restrictions. For many, as White says “meals that we’re providing tend to be their big meal of the day.” Additionally, delivery drivers also often spot problems that otherwise might get missed, such as when a senior is non responsive or struggling. Another problem lies in the skyrocketing prices of food with little help from funding sources to mitigate inflation.
Social activities also provide more quality of life for seniors. In addition to popular bingo and other games, many centers throw parties and hold other events to keep their members active and involved. As White stated “socialization plays a huge role in how well people adapt to change.”
Senior centers also often provide transportation services when public transit leaves gaps. Brown said “there’s always a need because of the lack of public transportation systems.” Senior center vehicles take riders to centers and home, but also to doctor visits, the grocery store, and elsewhere at times.
She added that “there’s not enough vans and not enough money to operate the system.”
Another critical service lies in providing in-home care. Senior centers often help provide help to homebound seniors in a variety of conditions.
Some help is coming. White said that, due to a task force’s recommendation, the state has provided $4 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for a “training surge.” Funding will support the creation of a curriculum and educating staff.
Additionally, the Governor announced over $3 million in support funding for senior centers. Brown and White warned directors that the funds were a one time disposition. They suggested using money from that for one time needs, such as replacing vehicles, fixing HVAC, or other costly problems, rather than supporting ongoing programs.
The directors were joined by a number of officials, including those in elected office. Those present were Ashley Anderson from the Upper Potomac Committee on Aging, Melissa Earle from Region Eight Economic Planning and Development, State Senators Randy Smith and Bill Hamilton, House of Delegates members John Paul Hott, Buck Jennings, and George Street, Daryl Cowles, representative of Governor Jim Justice, and Michael Rosenau, president of the Tucker County Commission.