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JoAnne Spoto Decker

Onondaga County Office for Aging director discusses results of survey, showing local seniors are depressed, anxious

By Mary Beth Roach

Q: In response to the survey question of what concerns seniors in Onondaga County you got 62% of the respondents saying it it’s the pandemic. Did this surprise you?

A: It did not surprise me at all. In fact, I thought that it might be a little higher.

Q: What are some of the services the Office for Aging provides to assist seniors during the pandemic?

A: The people that were connecting with our office were looking at nutritional needs, looking at transportation and for caregiver services. Our nutrition unit was able to work together with multiple food services agencies, human service agencies, Meals On Wheels providers during the pandemic. We began that coalition in March, 2020. Over the past winter, along with the help of the generous support, we were able to provide 350,000 meals to our seniors and healthcare workers.

We also have a senior shopper service that goes to the grocery store and shops for you, if you are unable to shop for yourself or have no one else to do so. Certainly, the pandemic exacerbated that problem. The people pay for the groceries. Our Office for Aging received masks and hand sanitizers from the NYS Office for Aging, and we were able to provide 35,000 masks and cases of hand sanitizers to assisted living facilities, nutrition staff, Meals On Wheels providers, senior housing, senior centers, and community-based agencies and transportation programs. More than 65 programs and organizations received that shipment from Onondaga County Office for Aging. Our EISIP [Expanded In-Home Services for the Elderly] program case managers were not making home visits, but they were making telephonic visits. Some of our transportation programs were still operational. A lot of our transportation programs that weren’t transporting, out of safety reasons, were delivering meals. Seniors are Job 1. Senior safety is Job 1. Access to services is Job 1.

Q: According to the survey, 59% said they had felt down, depressed or anxious in the past six months. What kind of services does your office provide to help seniors that are feeling isolated?

A: We have a geriatric mental health program that provides services and support for persons 55 years of age and older called the SHARP [Senior Health and Resource Partnership] Project. That program provides for persons aged 55 and older that may have substance use disorder and addiction. They may suffer from depression, other mental health issues. We provide care management through that. We’ve been able, over the last four years, to establish very strong connections with Helio Health and Liberty Resources in providing counseling and support services through that program. We use other community resources as well.

Q: What did some of the questions in the survey focus on?

A: What concerns you most? Are you familiar with Office for Aging and their services? Seventy-five percent said, ‘I’m not really that familiar with the Office for Aging services.’

Q: Do you foresee any major changes or additions to your programs and services based on the findings of your surveys or the pandemic?

A: Yes, we do. We had our I Care Institute [Institute for Caregivers] that provided classes to caregivers on a variety of issues. We also had our in-person caregiver support groups. We went virtual. When we can safely, we’re going to do both. We’re going to stay virtual and we’re also going to stay in-person. We’re going to stay virtual because caregivers might not be able to get to a class at 5:30 in Baldwinsville, or Cicero or Syracuse. We’re also going to look at different platforms and formats on how we can get information out and working with other county departments to assist with that. The pandemic has given us new ways to look at things, new ways to meet needs.

To learn more about the Office for Aging programs, call 315-435-2362, or visit www.ongov.net/aging.