Companies in South Valley work to keep the elderly safe during COVID-19 scare
Mar 23, 2020 04:28PM
By Stephanie Yrungaray
Senior Center patrons pick up a “to-go” lunch in the wake of SL County Senior Center closures to prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus. (Stephanie Yrungaray/City Journals)
By Stephanie Yrungaray | [email protected]
As individuals in the South Valley begin to hunker down and isolate, companies that work with the people most at risk of COVID-19, the elderly, are ramping up efforts to keep their customers and patrons safe and well taken care of.
On March 13, all 16 senior centers operated by the Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Besides offering recreational activities and a chance to socialize, the centers offer breakfast and lunch service.
“What we are focused on right now is continuing to provide our midday meal service,” said Afton January, communications manager for Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services.
January said many of the 19,000 people who visited county senior centers last year are dependent on the midday meal as a critical part of their daily nutrition. Prior to closing, center managers worked to communicate with patrons and made a list of those who were relying on the meals offered at the senior center. The following day, when the sites were officially closed, employees gathered outside of the senior centers to pass out prepackaged meals to clients who needed it. This midday meal service will continue even while the centers are closed.
“In the coming days, we may reduce the number of sites to make it more centralized,” January said. “But right now, all regular meal patrons can go to their center Monday to Friday to pick up a meal.”
Salt Lake County Aging and Adult Services also run the “Meals on Wheels” program that delivers a midday meal to “frail and isolated older adults.” January said the program, which delivers to around 2,400 seniors, will continue to operate with a few changes during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We are taking extra precautions going into client homes with people who have chronic conditions,” January said. “Sanitation is always at the top of our minds, and we are also providing additional hand sanitizer, Lysol wipes and things of that nature. We are also instructing all of our staff members and volunteers to not enter the home, but do a distant handoff—alert the client and put the meal where they can receive it.”
Tasha Lopez, executive director of Beehive Homes in Herriman, said they are taking extra precautions with cleaning and hand washing as well.
“We used to let people in and direct them to the handwashing sink,” Lopez said. “Now, we are escorting them right to the sinks to make sure it gets done.”
Beehive Homes is also trying to decrease exposure by temporarily stopping volunteers and limiting visitors to one per resident.
“The family will designate one sole person allowed to come in,” Lopez said.
Limiting volunteers and increased cleaning requirements puts more stress on staff and employees, but both Lopez and January say that everyone is happily contributing.
“I’ve got angels on our team,” Lopez said. “They are the best most caring people and aren’t giving it a second thought. They love residents like their own family. It has been incredible to see.”
“I am highly confident in our staff and volunteers,” January said. “This is a scary time, but it is when we remember why we do what we do. Everyone is incredible and is stepping up.”
January said help is available to any older adult whether they are a current senior center member or not.
“We want to make sure to help any older adult who needs assistance,” January said. “Our message to the community of older people is to call us at 385-468-3200. We don’t want to have closed centers and have people isolated and not know what to do if something happens to them. Our intake lines will be operational throughout this crisis.”
January said there are two major things that individuals can do to help the older community.
“First, people need to socially distance,” she said. “Stay home, stay out of crowds, don’t go to the grocery store if you don’t need to. As people withdraw from social life for a short amount of time, people at lower risk fill in the gaps for people whose lives depend on staying inside.”
January said the second thing people in the community can do to help is reach out to older adults in their lives.
“It is a really good time for individuals who feel like they want to help to reach out to people and offer assistance,” January said. “Whether it is your grandparents, aunts, uncles, people you go to church with, elderly neighbors or colleagues—if you are in good health, you could offer to go to the store for them or help in other ways.”
Lopez said the one thing she would request from people in the community is prayer.
“Pray for them,” Lopez said. “Good vibes, happy thoughts, whatever your thing is, we could all use it, but especially this population.”