People over 65 are considered at the highest risk of hospitalization and are more likely to die from COVID-19. Following strict social-distancing guidelines could be a life-saver. But if they do become infected, live by themselves and experience respiratory failure, calling 911 may not be possible.
- Volunteers and nonprofit agencies in Central Oregon reach out to seniors who live alone during the coronavirus pandemic.
Another risk is that older people who were active at their local senior centers and other social groups, may now be suffering from social isolation.
A number of organizations in Central Oregon are working to reach out to those who may not only lack company and support during the coronavirus pandemic, but who need simple favors or a hot meal.
There are lots of ways to volunteer and get involved to help older people in Central Oregon who need additional support while COVID-19 continues to spread. But the best advice I heard was from Pandemic Partners-Bend (volunteer Facebook group) founder Morgan Schmidt:
“Check on your neighbors,” she said. “If everyone does that, we could have most of the city covered. Leave them a note on their doors. Sometimes it’s hard to think of the most obvious thing.”
Schmidt is a pastor at the First Presbyterian Church in Bend. She had an idea for an online group three weeks ago that could be of service to people in need in Bend. With the help of 30 volunteers, Schmidt launched Pandemic Partners-Bend, which is now an active Facebook group with 11,000 members. Someone that needs something posts their request to the page, and volunteers then respond to the request: they pick up groceries, deliver supplies, find places for others to quarantine, change flat tires and drop off food for people living out of their cars. Currently, the site lists 270 success stories where the site matched those who needed help with others who were willing to provide it.
Schmidt knew from the beginning that hosting the group on Facebook would limit access to some people, maybe even the people who needed help the most.
“Facebook is a super-privileged place to be to be able to ask for help. Some people [don’t have] a smart phone, or a computer,” Schmidt told the Source. “Some seniors are super savvy at Facebook, others don’t have accounts.”
Last week, the group launched a helpline at 541-668-6117: Anyone can call this number and leave a message if they need assistance. Volunteers out in the field get the message and respond within hours. Other times, callers are connected to nonprofit agencies in Central Oregon.
The Facebook group is moderated by 14 other volunteers, and Schmidt says Pandemic Partners-Bend has become a full-time job in addition to her work as the pastor of teens and 20-somethings at First Presbyterian. She’s grateful to the church for their support, but the FB group has no religious affiliations or intentions, she said.
“This situation is unprecedented and scary; we are living in the unknown, especially our seniors,” she said. “I’m so encouraged through a 'behind the scenes' [with the FB group] perspective to make sure people don’t fall through the cracks.”
Council on Aging of Central Oregon
The Council on Aging is still operating during its normal hours Mon-Fri 8am-4:30pm, with staff answering the phone (541-678-5483) and setting up services for new clients who don't want to leave the house. Over the last two weeks, the federal government relaxed regulations to qualify for the agency’s Meals on Wheels programs, and COA is planning to increase its capacity. COA is also providing “drive thru” meals Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at noon at its Bend location (1036 NE Fifth St.) and other sites throughout Central Oregon listed at councilonaging.org.
“We can't do wellness visits like we have in the past, but we have volunteers contacting people we know are isolated,” said Susan Rotella, executive director of COA. "When we drop off meals, we call our clients and make sure they are doing OK."
Redmond Senior Center of Oregon
The Redmond Senior Center is a hub for the city’s older population, providing not just recreation opportunities but other resources like community meals, said Jamie Christman, the center’s executive director.
“In addition to the federally funded Meals-on-Wheels services already provided, we recognize there are seniors at home who do not currently qualify for Meals on Wheels,” said Christman in a press release. “As a result, we have started this ‘Home Meal Services’ program with the help of a generous partnership with McDonald’s of Redmond and our community.”
Christman said the center has received dozens of new sign-up calls a day for the meals program since it started.
“We know isolation is real and it’s happening and we’re creating an isolation plan and brainstorming ways to reach out,” Christman told the Source. “We’ve already called a ton of our residents [in Redmond] and we’re looking to set up a calling connection system. We’re working with students in the Redmond Proficiency Academy to help with the technical side.”
City of Bend
City of Bend staff working from home are helping to respond to phone messages left on the Pandemic Partners-Bend Help Line (541-668-6117). These City employees/volunteers receive Google transcriptions of the messages and then contact volunteers who are out in the field to help people who have called.
With City Manager Eric King’s support, some city employees are pitching by sewing masks for health care professionals as well while they’re working from home, according to Anne Aurand, City communications director.
“The City is trying to offer employees options that they can do from their home, like data entry, grant writing and coordination,” Aurand told the Source in an email. “If any organization needs assistance from a qualified workforce, they can contact either Cheryl Howard or Susanna Julber to see if we could match them with a volunteer(s).”
Bend Senior Center
The Bend Senior Center is run by the Bend Park and Recreation District, usually providing fitness classes and social opportunities for older people in Bend. After shutting down March 15, the center’s recreation coordinator began contacting the center’s instructors and reception staff to identify people who might be at risk during the center’s closure, according to Julie Brown, BPRD’s communications and community relations manager. The staff compiled a list of 160 people, including those who were recently widowed, living alone and/or who had health conditions. BPRD staff is following up with the group this week.
While these agencies, volunteer groups and local governments reach out to those who are already in their networks, there are undoubtably many people who live alone over the age of 65 that may need some attention or assistance. A quick phone call or a note taped to a neighbor’s door could make a difference in this time of crisis.
Also, organizers encourage people to share the Pandemic Partners-Bend phone number, 541-668-6117, with anyone in need.