Delivering food to senior population takes on new role during the pandemic
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Mountain View Manor senior apartment resident Vi Look misses going to the Steamboat Springs Community Center to catch up with her friends four days a week as part of the Routt County Council on Aging’s senior Eat and Greet program.
“Not be able to go to the center and eat and have the visiting and stuff, well yeah I miss that,” Look said. “I guess I’m a visitor — I like to visit.”
In-person senior lunches were suspended early last month in an effort to keep COVID-19 from spreading through the especially vulnerable senior population. These lunches are traditionally provided in Steamboat on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays; in South Routt on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays; and in Hayden on Tuesdays and Thursdays to people 60 and older.
The lunches not only provided nutrition but also a social connection for a group of people who can feel isolated at times.
“I did get a call today from a gentleman who asked if things were back to normal yet? I had to tell him, ‘No, not even close,’” said Routt County Council on Aging Executive Director April Sigman.
The man’s desire to get back with his friends is being felt by the entire community, and the organizations that serve these various groups of individuals are doing their best to keep them informed and safe.
“Everybody’s talking about the economy and the food and the needs,” Sigman said. “But social isolation has such an impact on mental health as well.”
And because of the social distancing restrictions currently in place, Sigman has become creative when it comes to reaching out. She has formed a phone connection tree that utilizes a group of about 20 volunteers who reach out to 140 households. The volunteers have been given a list of conversation starters and reminders about services offered.
So far the system seems to be working, and she said most of the seniors she’s spoken with seem to be doing well during this time of isolation.
“One woman in particular said that she has been contacted by her children more in the last two weeks than she has been in the last year,” Sigman said.
Routt County Council on Aging has shifted all meals to delivery, handing out 240 meals to the Steamboat, Hayden and Oak Creek areas it serves.
“We’ve definitely put in procedures, and everybody is using hand sanitizers, wearing gloves, not coming into direct contact with any of the clients,” Sigman said. “We are knocking and then leaving the food at the door. If we don’t have an acknowledgment of some sort, whether it’s a phone call or we can hear them through the door, then we’re not leaving perishables.”
Looks and other residents at Mountain View Manor in downtown Steamboat have signed up to receive meals from the Council on Aging. She said deliveries are left outside the apartment building, and once the driver is a safe distance away, the residents go outside and pick up food.
“It’s nice that we have a good meal every day, and they do good food,” Look said.”
The organization also delivers frozen meals on Wednesdays and over the weekend so that seniors have at least one meal a day and provides rides to doctor’s appointments and will go to the grocery store for seniors.
And beginning next week, the Council on Aging will be delivering senior commodities boxes on behalf of LiftUp of Routt County. Anybody 60 and older who normally gets a monthly box from LiftUp will now have it delivered to them by Council on Aging volunteers.
Epidemiologist Jenny Campbell was hired by Routt County a week ago and is leading a task force focused on the community’s high-risk populations, which includes seniors. She has already touched base with the Council on Aging.
“I’ve talked with April to kind of review their protocols and to make sure they’re using personal protective equipment and they’re using gloves when they’re packing the food and delivering it, which is great,” Campbell said. “We are just reinforcing guidelines for the seniors about just how important it is to maintain social distancing from each other.”
And even though it’s difficult, she in encouraging seniors to take the stay-at-home orders seriously even when it comes to family members living outside their households.
“We are really trying to discourage any visits like that,” Campbell said. “That’s the point of the stay-at-home order, and it is particularly important for this elderly population.”
Instead, she said people should pick up the phone, use Skype or some other forms of virtual communication. She has even heard of family members driving by a home or talking to a senior resident through a closed window.
For now, Look is just happy that the meals are still coming, and she’s looking forward to the day when she can visit again with friends at the community center.
“We’ll ride it out, and it’ll be fine,” Look said. “We have the Lord and that’s one good thing. That’s the best part of it.”
To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email jrussell@SteamboatPilot.com or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966.
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The pandemic is wearing on a lot of people, especially frontline health care workers like Whittany Keating, a registered nurse at UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center in Steamboat Springs.