BY Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
The most frightening demographic for COVID-19 has been the senior population who want to live at home, but not completely isolated.
Social agencies such as ONE CARE Home and Community Support Service, a charitable, not-for-profit health care orgainization based in Clinton, recognize the need for balance and have been struggling through lockdowns to help seniors live in their homes, without losing services such as Meals on Wheels and adult day programs to provide stimulation and relief for caregivers. It’s been a tricky balance.
“People always want to be at home. They feel safe at home and if they can be supported in their homes, it allows people to be healthier and surrounded by family, friends and community,” says Kathy Scanlon, Executive Director of ONE CARE for Huron and Perth Counties. “It’s also so important for the health of our communities for seniors to be a part of it.”
A valuable programs that is difficult to offer during this COVID-19 pandemic are adult day programs. Locations in Clinton, Goderich, Exeter, Wingham and Grand Bend had to be closed during lockdowns but that means seniors lost out on valuable social, learning and peer-time. For instance, the Clinton location offers a stroke program and staff teach special exercises and activities that benefit seniors recovering from strokes. Another vital aspect of the adult day programs is the respite it provides to caregivers.
“In many cases we have seniors, maybe 85-years-old, providing care for an 84-year-old spouse who has dementia,” explains Scanlon. “As dementia progresses, it’s really hard to provide support. Many wander. They have behaviours. For the caregiver, it’s really hard to keep a loved one with dementia at home and one thing that really helps is to have that day where their spouse is in a program and they can have a day to themselves to rest and recover to have energy to provide support to their loved one the rest of the time.”
Some adult day programs were cancelled and others have to limit numbers to maintain physical distancing requirements. “Prior to COVID-19, we had 12-15 people coming during the day but with COVID-19, we had to reduce that to six,” says Scanlon. ONE CARE was given additional funding in 2020 to provide extra days of service to meet the needs of more people but it’s a new year, with new budgets and new funding allocations. It remains to be seen whether ONE CARE can access that funding again or not.
It’s part of the reason Scanlon wanted this story to reach the broader community. “Many services like this, which are preventative, are not noticed until they are gone. But these needs are acute,” says Scanlon.
Doug Harding agrees. Doug has been a ONE CARE volunteer for six years, his wife Darlene over 20 years and his mother was also a dedicated volunteer. Doug and Darlene volunteer with the Meals on Wheels program to clients in Howick Township. “Right now we are out delivering twice a week but it has been as much as three days a week or down to one day a week,” says Doug, who also serves as the Reeve of Howick. “The seniors really look forward to seeing us and while we can’t go in the house anymore, we chat through the door. We keep our masks on and keep our distance as we really want to follow the rules and have a clean record.”
Doug says the seniors are very eager for news about what is happening in their community. “They have lots of questions for us and we appreciate being able to chat and be a break in their day. We leave them a meal and we leave with a smile on our face.”
He says volunteering has many perks but when delivering meals to seniors, one always has to be prepared for what might be on the other side of that door. Doug got emotional sharing an incident where a senior didn’t come to the door because they needed immediate medical help. “We were able to get that person the help they needed and after a stay in the hospital, they were able to come home and we could resume bringing them Meals on Wheels,” shared Doug, his voice thickening as he held back tears. “You get attached to these people and it feels really good to be able to help.”
Other services ONE CARE provide to seniors and the greater community are:
• Transportation: “This is a really important one in a rural area. We definitely had to adjust our transportation program during COVID-19,” says Scanlon. ONE CARE provides staff drivers and has a base of volunteer drivers to get seniors to church, to social events, to weekly grocery shopping trips and also medical appointments.
• Friendly Visiting: These one-on-one visits had to be revamped to phone call visits but their value was unaltered. “This program has been more important than ever because people are feeling lonely and isolated,” explains Scanlon. Volunteers are given training to encourage talk about the senior’s interests to keep seniors’ minds healthy and engaged. This is one program that is always looking for more volunteers.
• Meals on Wheels: This program has increased tremendously and during COVID-19, has added a grocery delivery program. “When it first hit, a lot of people did not want to go out so we offered grocery delivery and that has been very successful for people,” says Scanlon. This program was also supported by additional government grants
• Night Away: New this year, the Night Away program provided support for groups of individuals to stay in a hotel to provide overnight respite service. It has since been cancelled due to lack of funding.
• Bundle Services: ONE CARE partnered with local hospitals to provide a more comprehensive care pack that included meals, phone calls with doctors and in-home support to help seniors who have been in the hospital get settled back into a home routine. “A lot of time when people leave the hospital they feel insecure, so this extra support when they are first discharged gets them settled and back on their feet again,” says Scanlon.
In rural areas, oftentimes community members aren’t aware of all these services. Losing the ability to drive can be particularly detrimental in rural areas. Also, rural seniors tend to be very independent people and sometimes wait too long to access services. “In general, as we age, we don’t want to ask for help because we are fighting the decline. But the thing is that help is what PREVENTS the decline,” says Scanlon. “Getting help earlier helps you to be healthier.”
With more than 800 volunteers, ONE CARE is a charitable non-profit organization. It is entirely local with a focus on community and works very hard to adapt programs to meet the needs of gaps in senior care.
“Our vision is to offer a wide range of services to enhance people’s quality of life, to keep them healthy and to keep them at home in a caring community,” concluded Scanlon. ◊