The COVID-19 pandemic exposed the increasing needs among Pound Ridge’s most vulnerable population, its seniors, according to local officials, leading to a townwide reevaluation of the needs of the senior community and the town’s senior programming.
Louise Paolicelli, Pound Ridge’s senior programs coordinator and Neighbor to Neighbor liaison, said that following the height of the pandemic and seeing firsthand the growing needs of seniors, which were exacerbated by the health crisis, she shared her concerns with the town board.
Town Supervisor Kevin Hansan agreed the pandemic particularly affected the town’s senior population and said that after initial conversations following the health crisis, the town decided it was time to look at the senior program with a fresh set of eyes.
“Our primary role is to protect seniors in the community and make sure they have the programs and services that they need,” Mr. Hansan said.
Ms. Paolicelli said she sees that many more seniors need one-to-one support for longer hours, but the department does not currently have enough staff or volunteers to meet this growing demand.
“Especially with what’s gone on in the past year, the seniors seem to need more social services assistance than in the past,” Ms. Paolicelli said.
Ms. Paolicelli said the town’s reevaluation will identify which needs of the senior community fall within the town’s purview and how the town can apply resources accordingly.
Pound Ridge Councilmember Diane Briggs several months ago took on the role of town board liaison to the Pound Ridge Recreation Commission. In that capacity, Ms. Briggs said she is contributing to the town’s examination of senior programs and how it can best meet the growing demand for services.
Ms. Briggs said that while the town’s current senior programs, which mainly comprise of luncheons, trips and social gatherings, are popular and well-run, the pandemic has shed light on what the community needs from the senior program beyond the social components.
Ms. Paolicelli said during the pandemic, town employees and volunteers worked to reach out to seniors and connect with them both to provide help with grocery shopping and other essential daily services, and also to bring an element of fun to them, like delivering ice cream and balloons.
“That personal touch is hard to quantify,” Ms. Paolicelli said. “It’s a support and so important to them.” Ms. Paolicelli shared that one elderly resident was on the verge of tears after receiving a delivery because he didn’t think anyone knew he was there.
Karen Janiga, a longtime town resident and participant in the senior program, said she and her husband, John, have enjoyed their fair share of luncheons over the years. Ms. Janiga said they also greatly appreciated receiving home deliveries on holidays from young volunteers, especially Valentine’s Day.
In addition to the welcome social component, Ms. Paolicelli said many seniors are in need of support with common tasks, like filling out paperwork, making and attending doctor’s appointments and accessing the internet.
Ms. Paolicelli noted that one of the program’s volunteers has been providing grocery shopping services for one of the town’s seniors for over a year and a half. While the town’s volunteers are extremely dedicated, she said a lot of the needs go beyond a volunteer’s responsibility.
Ms. Paolicelli said there is also an increasing desire for adult programs among younger seniors in town. She added that individuals who qualify as seniors under the town pool’s senior discount policy but are not yet retired have expressed interest in participating in more weekend programs and recreational activities like pick-up softball games, trips and hikes. “We just don’t have the staff for that,” Ms. Paolicelli said.
Ms. Paolicelli and both members of the Pound Ridge Town Board agreed that they are in a very preliminary stage of the reevaluation and are not currently implementing any program changes.
Ms. Briggs said the town board will spend time with the Recreation Commission, Pound Ridge Police Department, Office of Emergency Management and the senior coordinator to determine which aspects of the senior programs have worked well and which haven’t, and identify how to address gaps in the future. “It’s going to be a work in progress,” she said.
Ms. Briggs anticipated that the process may result in the need for the town to hire an additional part-time senior advocate, in addition to Ms. Paolicelli, who is also officially part-time.
“We can’t just assume going back to pre-pandemic is the right solution,” Mr. Hansan said.
Mr. Hansan said the town also must evaluate the emergency services it should provide to seniors during extreme weather events, especially to residents who live alone. The supervisor heads the town’s Office of Emergency Management.
In the case of recent storms, Mr. Hansan said the town provided a list of seniors’ addresses to firefighters, who spread out through Pound Ridge, sometimes walking through woods, to reach them and to see if they needed any assistance.
Ms. Janiga relayed that in two instances she needed help from the town’s emergency services personnel, who she said were extremely responsive and helpful. She added that the shed with medical equipment which the town provides for seniors is another excellent service that helped her when she strained her ankle and needed a wheelchair, and eventually a cane.
Ms. Paolicelli said that just in recent weeks, she has received a steady flow of calls from seniors who are isolated and in difficult situations, adding that the list of vulnerable elderly residents continues to grow.
Ms. Janiga echoed several additional services needed that Ms. Paolicelli shared with the town board following the COVID-19 outbreak. For seniors living alone and possibly sick, transportation to doctors or the hospital would be extremely valuable, she said. Also, while a senior is hospitalized, she noted, it would be helpful if there were volunteers to perform needed tasks around the home, such as taking care of pets, picking up mail and running local errands. She acknowledged that expanding these type of services will require signing up more community volunteers, and suggested the town tap into the population of young residents as a source of new potential volunteers to help the elderly.