Summit County seniors get robust support from Senior Center, local volunteers during pandemic
FRISCO — Since the beginning of the pandemic, the coronavirus has shut away from society the people most vulnerable to it: the elderly. According to the census, Summit County has more than 4,000 resident seniors, and their isolation is even more pronounced in the mountains. Many live alone and are unable to receive visitors, even family, in order to eliminate the risk of contracting a virus that has killed tens of thousands of seniors across the planet in mere months.
In the United States, as many as 1 in 10 nursing homes have had outbreaks. In Colorado and several other states, nursing home deaths account for over half of the COVID-19 deaths publicly reported.
Helping Summit seniors get through the pandemic has become a communitywide effort, with hundreds of local volunteers stepping up to help the employees of the Summit County Community and Senior Center deliver food and medical supplies across the county.
“Our volunteer numbers have gone through the roof,” said Lorie Williams, manager of the senior center. “We have 188 new volunteers, and that does not include senior volunteers. We’ve been able to utilize 71% of them, but we are trying to utilize all of them to keep them engaged.”
The senior center is providing Meals on Wheels deliveries not only to seniors but also to anyone in the community who has asked for food assistance. Williams said the senior center normally delivers about 35 meals a week. Last week, it delivered 251. Williams said 1,800 meals have been prepared in the senior center’s kitchen and delivered across Summit since the shutdown went into effect in mid-March.
Initially, the senior center was only able to provide individual meals and “blizzard boxes” full of nonperishables. But through a partnership with the Rotary Club of Summit County, Williams said the center is now able to provide enough food for a week so families do not have to go outside if they don’t need to.
The senior center also has recently received a refrigeration truck through a grant that allows it to deliver gallons of milk, eggs, cheese, fruits and vegetables alongside nonperishables and prepackaged meals. The towns will be helping distribute the food at stations around the county during the weekends.
Williams said the senior center has enough in the way of supplies and funding at the moment, with substantial financial support from The Summit Foundation and food supplies from the Family & Intercultural Resource Center. But she acknowledged that funding will need to come from other sources to keep the program sustainable in the long term. To that end, the senior center is applying for private and public grants around the clock.
Aside from having their food needs met, seniors also need activity to keep themselves stimulated as well as safe socialization, both of which are hard to do when required to stay at home.
Gini Patterson, executive director of Timberline Adult Day Services, had been helping clients through face-to-face interaction and group activities before the pandemic. After the virus hit Summit, she had to get creative in how to serve clients.
Aside from delivering food daily to Timberline clients, courtesy of the senior center, Patterson said Timberline has been delivering supplies and medical equipment, such as walkers and wheelchairs. Timberline also has been delivering puzzles and games to keep clients occupied along with virtual socialization chats twice weekly.
Timberline is helping seniors and other clients get outdoors by picking them up and taking them out for recreation in relatively remote areas where they can safely get the exercise they need in a supervised setting, all while wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing and hygiene protocols.
Timberline is also helping the caretakers who look after clients at their homes, as some seniors require frequent supervision and care while on lockdown.
“During this time of quarantine, our caregivers can easily burn out,” Patterson said. “We are providing resources and support to help with the possibility of caregiver burnout.”
The worry about burnout extends to the senior center and Timberline employees, who have been counted on by the county to deliver needed services without a break since March. Williams said she and others helping the county’s seniors are taking their duties in stride, understanding the enormity of the crisis and the need to do their part to help our most vulnerable residents.
“We are doing the best we can, but like other essential workers, we are all a little tired,” Williams said. “But we are all in good spirits because we know we are doing something very important for the community. We also appreciate all our partners who have been so generous. It takes a village.”
To contact the senior center for food assistance or services related to senior care, call 970-668-2940.
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