HCA, Selfhelp Community Services to Expand Pioneering ‘Virtual Senior Center’ for All NY Home Care Patients Amid COVID-19 Social Isolation
Grant from Mother Cabrini Health Foundation to fund statewide technical expansion of Selfhelp’s online VSC platform so home care providers statewide can offer service, connect patients
The distress of social isolation and technology’s power to help overcome this divide are well understood by all New Yorkers amid the COVID-19 health emergency. Older adults, especially those who are homebound, are uniquely susceptible to these perils – now more so than ever.
To help, the Home Care Association of New York State (HCA) was awarded a grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation to leverage Selfhelp Community Services’ Virtual Senior Center (VSC) web-based platform so that all home care providers in New York State can offer the VSC to their patients.
“The Governor is calling for New York to ‘reimagine’ critical services with a focus on connective technologies that help solve needs fundamentally exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis,” said HCA President and CEO Al Cardillo. “Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center has already ‘reimagined’ social services, using powerful technology to connect medically vulnerable older adults and individuals who are homebound or isolated.”
“We are proud to work with Selfhelp under the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation project to make this robust platform available to all home care agencies and patients across New York State during the present crisis and as a lasting solution for social isolation concerns among older adults,” Cardillo added. “We thank the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation for making this possible.”
Research shows that isolation in older adults and persons with disabilities or chronic conditions is linked to higher risks or exacerbations of many physical and mental health conditions.
COVID-19 and social distancing requirements have made this kind of isolation a fixture of everyday life for New Yorkers in far greater and more extensive ways, especially for the 4.3 million New Yorkers age 60 and older – a population that is projected to reach 5.3 million by 2030.
Home care providers deliver health, assistive, nutritional, and social supports to older adults and others at home. Selfhelp Community Services provides home care, affordable housing, and social services to 20,000 older and vulnerable adults in New York City and Long Island. Their Virtual Senior Center enables homebound older adults to participate virtually in live classes, tour world-famous museums, interact with peers, engage in wellness activities, and, most importantly, expand their social network. Participants can log into the VSC whenever they choose, review the weekly calendar, and join classes that interest them. Independent evaluation has found that joining the VSC has multiple emotional and physical health benefits: it reduces isolation and loneliness and increases connectedness and self-reported health status.
“We are pleased to be bringing the Virtual Senior Center (VSC) to seniors throughout New York State,” said Stuart C. Kaplan, Selfhelp CEO. “Our VSC is a lifeline for homebound older adults who participate in our live virtual classes every week. We know that joining the VSC has emotional and physical health benefits: it reduces social isolation and loneliness and promotes social inclusion. We hear from our clients like Rose who shared: ‘You learn stuff. It makes you happy. I don’t know what we’d do without it.’ Or Yetta who said: ‘As a retired teacher, I love being able to continue learning. I couldn’t learn from other people without the VSC because I’m homebound.’”
He added: “We are enormously grateful to the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation for this grant that will enable the collaboration between Selfhelp and the Home Care Association of New York State to expand the VSC, providing thousands of older adults receiving home care with engaging interactive classes, including a substantial health curriculum that will promote physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing.”
On this initiative, HCA, Selfhelp and home care organizations statewide look forward to further partnering with government agencies, including the state’s Department of Health (DOH) and Office for the Aging (NYSOFA), as well as Managed Long Term Care plans that provide care management and authorizations for a wide array of long term care and community-based services under New York’s Medicaid program.
New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) Acting Director Greg Olsen said: “Social isolation was already a serious public health problem for older individuals who have limited social connections, and the COVID-19 virus has made this problem exponentially worse. HCA’s grant from the Mother Cabrini Health Foundation to expand Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center to all home care providers and their clients statewide will help thousands of older New Yorkers engage in health and wellness opportunities, participate in cultural activities, and stay socially connected. This innovative technological partnership is another example of how organizations across New York State are working together to provide critical services that improve the lives of older adults and their families.”
More information about Selfhelp’s Virtual Senior Center is here: http://vscm.selfhelp.net/service.
HCA and Selfhelp will soon be announcing a webinar introducing the platform to home care agencies.
HCA is a statewide health organization comprised of nearly 400 member providers and organizations delivering home and community-based care to several hundred thousand New Yorkers annually. HCA works to support providers in the delivery of high quality, cost-effective home and community-based care for the state’s citizens. HCA providers include hospitals, nursing homes, free-standing agencies and health systems which operate Certified Home Health Agencies, Licensed Home Care Services Agencies, Managed Long Term Care Plans, Hospices, Long Term Home Health Care Programs, waiver programs, and an array of allied, supportive services entities.
About Selfhelp Community Services
Selfhelp Community Services was founded in 1936 and today Selfhelp is one of the largest and most respected not-for-profit human service agencies in the New York metropolitan area providing a broad set of services to more than 20,000 elderly, frail, and vulnerable New Yorkers each year, while remaining the largest provider of comprehensive services to Holocaust survivors in North America. Selfhelp offers a network of services including home care, social services, and affordable housing with the overarching goal of helping New Yorkers to live with dignity and independence.
MEDIA SERIES DESIGNED TO HIGHLIGHT LOCAL PUBLIC HEALTH EFFORTS
New City, NY, - Rockland County Executive Ed Day and County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert announce the latest update to the #PublicHealthIsHere4U media series, which highlights local COVID-19 public health efforts that are keeping our community safe. The series highlights county employees and volunteers that have come together to help battle this disease through the implementation of public health measures.
Today's #PublicHealthIsHere4U update features the essential public health role of the county’s Office for the Aging in providing essential services to assist older, homebound residents in need during the COVID-19 crisis.
Tina Cardoza-Izquierdo, Director of Office for the Aging (OFA) in Rockland, has been employed in her role as director for three and a half years and oversees a team of 14 county employees. Before COVID-19, she was responsible for the OFA's daily operations, the fiscal management of a 6.4-million-dollar budget, monitoring and evaluation of programs to ensure regulatory compliance, and senior advocacy. The OFA serves clients from the age of 60 and over. There are approximately 68,000 seniors in Rockland over the age of 60. Approximately 80% of seniors are over the age of 70 (54,400).
Since March, and with the passing of Matilda’s Law, individuals age 70 and older, those with compromised immune systems, and those with underlying illnesses have been advised to remain at home as they are among the most vulnerable to complications from COVID-19. With this public health measure in place and to protect 1/5 of county residents, Tina and her staff have shifted job tasks to handle the surge in requests from the county’s older residents.
"It’s all hands on deck! Seniors are in desperate need of food and in-home services. Something as simple as laundering their clothes has become an issue. I have negotiated new contracts to ensure all their needs are met while being restricted by stay at home orders. Our day-to-day operations now primarily focus on getting food, medication, behavioral support, and any other assistance clients need to remain safe and healthy in their home," said Tina Cardoza-Izquierdo.
Due to the overwhelming need and with state approval, OFA’s intake and assessment form has been greatly shortened. Services have been more streamlined; anyone who cannot leave their home and calls the OFA in need of food, home-delivered meals, or requires a home aide can get the assistance they need.
Office for the Aging is able to arrange telehealth services for any behavioral health concerns and virtual recreational activities such as yoga to keep the aging population active and engaged. Staff also provides technical assistance to help residents access these online services. Case managers are in regular contact with high-need clients providing ‘well checks’ to ensure their needs are being met.
One of OFA's established and popular food access programs is a home-delivered meals program distributed by Meals on Wheels, Mom's Meals, and Northern Metropolitan. This meal-delivery service can accommodate special diets and Kosher meals and can be provided to any Rockland County senior resident who is home due to illness, physical handicap, or advanced age and cannot shop or cook for themselves. "Once COVID-19 began spreading through our community, the demand for home-delivered meals increased. Since March 13, there were 690 new home-delivered meal clients needing this vital service," said Tina Cardoza-Izquierdo.
The Shopping for Seniors program was established in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. It involves a collaboration of community partners which help residents access groceries and other necessities. Shopping for Seniors volunteers make weekly staple food deliveries directly to the homes of residents over 60 or for individuals who are disabled and are unable to leave their homes. Groceries are left on resident's doorstep by volunteers who wear a mask and observe proper physical distancing guidelines. Recognizing that weekly needs for food can change, clients are expected to call-in weekly to request this service. The shopping bag of food includes staple items such as eggs, milk, tuna fish, fruit cocktail, pasta, sauce, and other essentials such as a roll of toilet paper.
"Shopping for Seniors started through the outpouring of support from over 25 community partners. The program started with some modest monetary and grocery donations. The demand has skyrocketed, and we currently distribute between 150-175 bags of groceries per week. Each weekly grocery bag costs approximately $20. Due to the demand, New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) has included this program as part of its reimbursable programs to the county, saving over $3,000 a week in local taxpayer dollars while ensuring no senior goes hungry," said Tina Cardoza-Izquierdo.
Residents who are food insecure, are very appreciative of their home-delivered groceries and meals. Past clients continually express how thankful they were to everyone from the Office for the Aging who took care of them when times became tough. "From my own personal experience delivering food, it is so fulfilling to know you are helping someone. Feeling a client's gratitude and appreciation is amazing, as they often feel forgotten. Helping residents feel more secure and that someone is caring for them, is really what this is all about for us," said Tina Cardoza-Izquierdo.
Maria from New City, a client who utilizes the Shopping for Seniors program, shared this sentiment, "I had tried for four days to place an order with different grocery stores, and they were so backed up they weren't even offering any future delivery dates. I turned to OFA because I was fearful. You made a real difference in my life by answering my fear that I would never get food delivered from anywhere. I appreciate knowing OFA staff was there for me and the special things you put into those bags, the crackers, the surprise applesauce, and so much else. I felt so insecure and was so glad you came. What you delivered, relieved me, and I am grateful."
The Rockland Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) can assist clients in getting their medications from a pharmacy and transport clients to medical appointments. “These are issues we have seen during normal times but have been intensified since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The OFA staff and volunteers are extremely committed to serving the seniors in Rockland County. Our team goes above and beyond to address the client's needs and has shown great strength and fortitude as essential personnel during this pandemic. I am very proud of them for all their hard work and dedication. We are taking care of our residents and are the ‘behind the scenes heroes’ during this COVID-19 crisis,” said Tina Cardoza-Izquierdo.
For general information on Office for the Aging programs, including the programs mentioned above, senior housing lists, discount bus passes, legal referrals, directories, and more, please call 845-364-2110 or visit http://rocklandgov.com/departments/aging/.
For COVID-19 information or questions, call the Rockland County COVID-19 Hotline at 845-238-1956, Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm or email COVIDCallCenter@co.rockland.ny.us. For local COVID-19 information and resources, visit the county's coronavirus (COVID-19) webpage at http://rcklnd.us/covid19 or follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rockhealth or Twitter at www.twitter.com/rockhealth.
# # #
For local seniors who have been missing the Sam Pomeranz Jewish Community Center’s Chef Donna Carullo’s cooking due to the coronavirus pandemic, their wait came to an end on June 1. That’s when the JCC started curbside pickup for its Senior Kosher Lunch Program. On this first day over 20 lunches were picked up by appreciative seniors. It was a happy occasion to see familiar faces once again after having been apart for over two months. You can’t tell from these photos, but everyone was smiling underneath their masks.
Curbside pickup for the JCC’s senior lunches runs Monday-Friday from 12-12:30 pm. There is a $4.25 suggested contribution per meal. Cash or JCC Senior Meal Coupon only are accepted. Reservations are required at least one business day before the meal date by calling 315-445-2360, ext. 100. Questions? Email Cindy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The JCC’s Senior Kosher Lunch Program is funded in part by Onondaga County Adult and Long Term Care Services, New York State Office for the Aging, and the Jewish Federation of Central New York. Additional funds are provided by the JCC.
Utilizing Community Partnerships to Deliver Service
COVID-19 has presented many challenges with delivering service to communities throughout the country. The counties in New York State recognized early on that forming partnerships within their communities would make it possible to continue providing quality of life services to their most vulnerable populations.
Early on, we anticipated the need to deliver basic essentials and did not want to worry about payment, exchanging of money, or using up resources like food pantries that unemployed families in the county may need." says Cathy Mackay, Director.
Cattaraugus County Office of Aging applied for and received several grants that enabled them to provide groceries, household items, pet supplies and other basic necessities free of charge to seniors across the county out of their central kitchen working with their GPO and vendors like HPSI, SYSCO, US Foods, Curtze, etc. The Cattaraugus County Office for the Aging received grants through local/regional COVID-19 funds, foundations, MOWAA, and several other local partners.
Cattaraugus County Office of Aging established a wellness program to fight isolation early on. They have reassigned RSVP volunteers to take on duties they can now do from their homes. Volunteers send hand-written pen-pal letters every week, make daily friendly assurance phone calls, and make homemade video messages from local friends and organizations. They also use grant money to deliver special treats regularly to create positive mental wellness. Gardening kits, Easter candies, Mother's Day plants, Joy for All Pets, books, puzzles, and activities are some of the delivered items. They formed a committee early on just to organize these weekly messages and special gifts, deliveries, and mailings.
Cattaraugus County Department of Aging purchased sewing machines from a local Singer store and fabric so county jail inmates could make fabric masks. The volunteers continue to make hundreds of masks daily which are donated to first responders and essential workers.
"AgingNY is proud of the incredible work being done by Cattaragus County Office for the Aging." says Becky Preve, Executive Director for the Association on Aging in New York. "The innovations and services being provided during the pandemic provide health and safety for the most vulnerable population."