Adaptability in uncertain times: how senior centers are continuing to support our seniors

The current landscape in King County and across the world is unprecedented, but we are all in this together. Community matters now more than ever and we need each other during these stressful times, especially seniors in our community who often experience social isolation without the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many seniors in King County experience social isolation because of few social supports, lack of nearby family and mobility issues that cause them to be home-bound. The need to practice social distancing to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and to protect people at higher risk for severe COVID-19 illness such as adults over 60 and people with underlying health conditions, is creating access challenges for seniors who may rely on the services that are now more difficult to access.

It is critical to follow social distancing recommendations to help slow the spread of COVID-19. We also know that significant health risks accompany social isolation. Remaining socially engaged in community has many benefits, including better physical health and resistance to illness and disease; mental and cognitive health; and a sense of purpose and control. It is important to find safe ways to remain connected while following social distancing recommendations.

Conquering social isolation with creativity

With the need to practice social distancing and strong Public Health recommendations outlining that seniors should stay home and away from gathering places, senior centers are adapting to provide those critical connections and supports that seniors in our communities depend on. The senior centers that make up our Veterans, Seniors and Human Services Levy (VSHSL) Senior Hubs are among the many senior centers in King County that are developing creative solutions to provide seniors with critical services and opportunities for social engagement during these uncertain times.  Centers are doing this while balancing the critical Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for social distancing. Many centers that had been providing congregate meals or community dining are now offering simple meals to-go, sometimes with extra food for days the packaged meals are not available. Centers have offered to grocery shop for their seniors who are staying home and away from crowds. Some are providing one-to-one transportation to essential appointments and others are transforming their regular activities to virtual versions such as yoga class on Zoom. Below, we are featuring two senior centers funded by the VSHSL that have found creative ways to adapt their services to the current, rapidly evolving situation.

Enumclaw Senior Center

Enumclaw Senior Center, the only senior center in the South East Rural Senior Hub, has creatively adjusted to offering little and no contact supports to seniors. Seniors in Enumclaw and the nearby surrounding areas are offered to-go meals, meal delivery and grocery and medication pick-up and delivery. Staff are including an ‘entertainment packet’ in seniors’ to-go meals to boost spirits and provide opportunities for social engagement for seniors. The packets might include puzzles, games, brochures, news, information on COVID-19 and the highly sought after handmade cards from local students. The center’s Executive Director, Jobyna Nickum, reached out to Enumclaw’s local schools and asked teachers to have their students, who are at home themselves, create cards and messages to be sent with seniors’ to-go meals.  Enumclaw Senior Center’s creativity is ushering new, inter-generational opportunities for social connection.

To support increased need in the Enumclaw community, volunteers from the Neighbors Feeding Neighbors Senior Meal Delivery program and community volunteers have stepped in to help deliver the meals to home-bound seniors.

 

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Additionally, the center’s Resource Navigator and Rural Health Coordinator are making regular phone calls to seniors to check on their well-being and provide support such as providing information on resources for anxiety and depression. Enumclaw Senior Center staff created a checklist to help connect with and bring services directly to seniors in their community. The checklist was mailed to all of their senior participants and seniors can use the checklist to let the center know what they may need.

South Park Senior Center

With the doors of the South Park Senior Center, a member of the Hub for Asian American Pacific Islander Seniors (HAPPI), closed to all but essential staff, the center has found creative ways to reach the seniors in their community. South Park Senior Center is offering to-go meals and meal deliveries to their senior community. After seeing an influx of need for meals, the center has accepted food from Operation Sack Lunch for additional meals to meet this growing need.

The center is also making weekly wellness check calls to help ensure seniors’ needs are being met. Khmer and Vietnamese speaking staff and volunteers provide wellness checks-ins in seniors’ preferred languages to make sure no one in their community is being left out.

 

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At South Park Senior Center creativity is flexibility. Allowing flexibility among their staff roles helps the center shift priorities to meet the needs of their community. While staff are not able to provide the in-person programs that have traditionally defined a senior center, they’ve been set to work on other essential projects such as sanitizing areas in the center used for preparing to-go meals, submitting an application for the King County COVID-19 Equity Response Fund to provide additional support to seniors or taping a YouTube yoga session to help seniors remain active while staying at home.

Resources for seniors and senior centers

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