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Stay creative to ease stress levels

For the last month, Office for Aging Services (OFAS) like many other organizations have been dealing with “COVID Fatigue.” Even our own staff is going a little “COVID CRAZY” with the stress of kids distance learning and parents working at home while adapting all services to keep people safe from the virus. With a vaccine finally on the horizon, we cannot relax our vigilance in following the guidelines. Don’t focus on what can’t be done but be creative and use humor to release stress. We need to be kind and help each other more than ever so we can get through the next few months.

The Holidays will be here before we know it. Please do all you can to safeguard the vulnerable from COVID and remember this is one Thanksgiving and one Christmas in the context of a lifetime. Do everything you can this year to prevent the spread of COVID so we can all be together next year!

Since the pandemic began, Office for Aging Services has made changes to meet the needs of seniors who are requesting our help. The increase in needs combined with fiscal challenges that the county and state are facing has caused us to make more changes than usual in a shorter period. Any changes to services are always with these goals in mind: Keeping older adults safe, healthy, (protected from COVID -19) and living independently as possible; supporting caregivers; and using our funding dollars to do the most good for the people who are most in need. Now that the county budget is finalized, we turn our attention to planning services for the next year. Our service plan must be reviewed and approved by our advisory board, the County Executive, and the NYS Office for Aging. In addition, we are required to obtain comment from the community and older adults about our plans. Usually this occurs at a public hearing but since we are not gathering this year, we will use the rest of this article to give you an overview of Aging Services plans.

In 2021, OFAS will continue to focus the most dollars on in-homecare and nutrition services as these are critical to keeping older adults living at home, preventing hospital admissions, and premature entry to nursing homes. We currently have 560 people in the OFA homecare program and an additional 750 people receiving home delivered meals, and 800 people with emergency response buttons. Clients can receive 2-6 hours of aide services, through licensed homecare agencies, to help with daily living needs or hire a family member or friend to provide their care. In addition, the OFAS homecare program provides Adult Day services through Chautauqua ADC; emergency response buttons through CST/ Best Buy Health, home repairs and safety adaptations through CHRIC, and meals delivered by Jamestown Meals on Wheels, Sinclairville 76ers, or DF MOW depending on where you live in the county. OFA services are funding by a combination of Federal, State and local dollars including client contributions. With additional state funds as well as Cares Act dollars, we were able to reduce our waitlist to about 200 people and offer more services like emergency response buttons to keep people safe during the pandemic.

During this time, the demand for our nutrition services increased significantly. The United Way began convening many community and government agencies (including OFAS) early on in the pandemic to make sure everyone was communicating and coordinating efforts around food and other services. This was very helpful to prevent duplication and illuminate gaps in services allowing us to cultivate partners or internal resources to fill the gaps. It has also became a forum to discuss the virus and safety measures taken to prevent the spread of COVID. In our partner “Meals on Wheels” programs, OFA converted all congregate sites to drop off delivery. MOW staff were told not to enter client’s homes but leave the meal in a designated spot to protect clients from potential virus transmission. Restaurants in our “Dining-Out” program were allow to provide take-out meals instead of eat-in. We identified a need for online grocery shopping assistance and started helping people with this using our finance team. We worked with local farmers to pilot a “Farm to Senior Table” program of fruit and vegetable boxes distributed drive through style. Since it is unclear when traditional dining sites will open for seniors, we plan to expand the “Farm to Senior Table” and develop more restaurant dining sites in 2021. We must thank all the senior housing staff throughout the county for stepping up and helping OFA distribute meals so we could keep the drivers out of the housing units. We also tapped this group to help distribute masks, sanitizer, and Senior Farmer Market coupons to people in their buildings. In 2021, we plan to work with them to get exercise and health/wellness programs up and running in a safe way. Tai Chi, Healthy Bones, and SNAP Ed are currently being broadcast on Mayville Access Channel 5 Cable TV and YouTube thanks to our friend, Doc Hamels and company. Look them up on YouTube under Chautauqua Strong and Healthy. We welcome sharing with other access stations in the county.

In 2021, we will be moving our Jamestown office location from 610 W. Third to the new Chautauqua Center building on Institute Street. This will provide us with more room, more privacy, and lot of opportunities to collaborate and convene seniors once allowed to do so. The building boasts many community spaces including a teaching kitchen where we plan to hold our dietician led, “Eat Healthy, Be Active” classes. We are not cutting services to seniors to make this move as some concluded from the budget hearings. In fact, we hope to be able to expand services due to the amenities that will be available.

Other changes in 2021 include our on-going trainings for local organizations to assist people with Medicare insurance. The senior employment program will move administration from OFAS to Goodwill of WNY. This program allows a training-to-work experience for older adults through a department of labor grant. Currently these people are on the county payroll but placed in not-for-profits or government entities where they work and gain skills. In January, the enrollees will be on the Goodwill WNY payroll but we do not expect any cuts or changes for our host agencies or the older adults currently in the program. For more information on OFAS 2021 plan for programs and funding contact our office at 753-4471 and we will send you a detailed summary. You can comment on our programs and services by calling or e-mailing us through our NY Connects program at 753-4582 or ccnyc@co.chautauqua.ny.us or messaging us through Facebook. Stay Safe!

Mary Ann Spanos is the director of the Chautauqua County Office of the Aging.

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