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October 17, 2012

Call center puts seniors on the right path for resources

By Cortney Casey
C & G Staff Writer

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Call center puts seniors on the right path for resources
Rochester Hills resident Rosemary Szasna and fellow volunteers load food into containers that keep it hot in transit for the homebound meals program, run out of the Older Persons’ Commission in Rochester.

For senior citizens struggling to adapt to the challenges of age, the list of questions regarding long-term care options is often extensive and the answers elusive.

Some seniors lack transportation or even basic nutritional necessities. Some need in-home health care — others, just an occasional hand with their housework.

“I think people don’t know where to start. I think that’s one of the greatest challenges,” said Sallie Justice, communications manager for the Area Agency on Aging 1-B. “There’s so many decisions that may have to be made, and … that can be extremely overwhelming.”

AAA 1-B — a Southfield-based nonprofit organization serving Macomb, Oakland, Livingston, Monroe, St. Clair and Washtenaw counties — fields 60,000-70,000 calls annually via its call center, a free service linking seniors and their caregivers with information and referrals, said Justice.

From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., six trained resource specialists man the phones at (800) 852-7795.

“If we can’t answer it, we can find someone who can,” said Justice. “We don’t have all the answers, but we can put people in touch with services and other organizations that can help based on their specific needs.”

Justice said inquiries about food, housing, transportation and respite care assistance are the most prevalent, and AAA 1-B maintains a comprehensive database of local resources and services — comprising more than 5,000 entries — to address those concerns, said Director of Communications Jenny Jarvis.

“There are services and resources that are available in the community that a lot of people simply aren’t aware of,” she said. “Our agency can at least help them understand what’s available, what they’re eligible for. We’re really a great place to start, a good first call.”

Jarvis said AAA 1-B can help callers develop a plan to meet their needs and determine what they might be eligible for, such as government-funded programs for low-income individuals.

Seniors can get information on downsizing their homes, relocating to a nursing home or assisted living, and securing help with everyday home care and specific maintenance needs, like snow shoveling and lawn cutting.

There are some services that supply homebound seniors with daily meals and others that address senior legal issues. There are injury prevention programs that can facilitate installation of grab bars, shower seats and other devices in the home. There are also relief initiatives for seniors who can’t afford their utility bills.

MyRide2 coordinates transportation options in Oakland and Macomb counties for residents via a dedicated toll-free hotline: (855) MYRIDE2, or (855) 697-4332. 

There are even support groups for individuals suffering from conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis, and people recovering from strokes, coping with the loss of a spouse or struggling with caregiver stress.

Federal, state and local funding help fuel the AAA 1-B’s educational and resource-linking efforts. The organization is also responsible for allocating some of those funds to locally-based services, including Meals on Wheels programs in all six counties.

The Older Persons’ Commission in Rochester — which services Rochester, Rochester Hills and Oakland Township — is among resources recommended to callers by AAA 1-B. Its responsibilities include handling homebound meal delivery for a quarter of Oakland County through a combination of its own funds and allocations obtained through AAA 1-B.

Marye Miller, the OPC’s executive director, said the program is one of the few that supplies hot meals seven days a week. Besides providing essential nutrition, the daily house calls by volunteers also serve as “wellness checks” for seniors who may otherwise have few links to the outside world.

“A person coming to your door is more than just giving them a meal,” she said. “It’s giving them the reassurance and the warmth. If there’s any problems, they know there’s someone who’s going to talk to them.”

The OPC, working jointly with other partners, has a myriad of other offerings, including medical equipment loans, transportation, and assistance with snow removal, home upkeep, cleaning services, tax preparation and more.

Miller said private service providers often have the edge in terms of reaching seniors because they have the marketing budgets necessary to fund widespread promotion. Yet there are often many lower-cost or free options available of which people are unaware, she said.

“There are a lot of things that we can do to help people stay in the community as long as possible,” she said.

For more information on AAA 1-B, visit www.aaa1b.org or call (800) 852-7795.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Cortney Casey at ccasey@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1046.