(Editor's note: This article is part of One United Lancaster's Responding to Covid series. Quoted material has been edited for length and clarity.)
The organization Lon Wible heads, the Lancaster County Office of Aging, is one of Pennsylvania's 52 Area Agencies on Aging. It has a staff of nearly 70, and is a key service provider for a population that is particularly vulnerable to the pandemic.
Wible: Fortunately, about a year prior (to Pennsylvania's statewide shutdown last spring), we had gone from desktop computers to tablets for all of our workers. We also had started toward getting iPhones. The pandemic just sped that up. So for the past year, we have all been using tablets and iPhones.
We were able to keep our operations going, just in a new way. We continue to answer calls from consumers. We continue to do level of care assessments. We're carrying a caseload of about 1,000 adults in terms of providing in-home services. We were able to keep that going. Protective services didn't miss a beat. They continued through the pandemic and continue now.
We did close our senior centers (during the statewide shutdown last spring), and the adult day centers we partner with were closed. ... Knowing that many older adults come to our senior centers for the noon meal that we serve, we tried to look for ways that we could still provide something. So, over the closure period, we were able to provide frozen meals and weekly supplies to seniors who needed them. We were able to distribute over 22,000 frozen meals over that period.
When the pandemic receded last summer, the Office of Aging reopened its offices, senior centers and day care centers, implementing occupancy limits and health protocols. But then, as winter approached, case numbers spiked afresh.
Wible: Our office at 150 N. Queen St. has been open since July. We're working with pretty much a skeleton crew, but anyone who comes in can be served. Our senior centers remain closed, and our partners still have our adult day care centers closed as well. Probably in the next two months we'll be moving toward reopening them.
Social isolation has been a big issue. Early in the fall, we began looking at how we could expand our efforts to get programming out there to individuals who had computers. Our senior center supervisor, Lisa Paulson, identified several programs that we could do online. They really worked well, and we had a lot of positive response, to the point that we decided we wanted to expand this significantly.
We're calling it the Lancaster County Office of Aging Virtual Connections. We're now up to over 360 older adults who are participating. We're up over 100 activities that we're doing on a monthly basis.
Related: Lancaster County's virtual senior center offers exercise, music and more during Covid-19 - One United Lancaster
We're excited about continuing it. We think it's going to play a role in our future. While it won't be a brick-and-mortar senior center, it's another tool to engage with older adults and keep them interacting and communicating with one another.
When news broke that the first Covid-19 vaccines had received emergency authorization, the Office of Aging began to get calls from seniors and their families seeking help making appointments. What began as a trickle became a flood.
Wible: The weekend after Presidents Day we received over 250 calls. It just kept going from there, averaging about 100 calls a day.
The calls broke down into four categories: People with computers who were frustrated by the appointment process; people without Internet access; people who were homebound and would not be able to make the trip to a clinic, and people who could go but lack transportation.
Wible: We decided to begin to take names and contact information. Our list is now over 1,200 people. But we've been able to move people on.
Those individuals who contacted us who have computers, we've been returning their calls and letting them know when we're aware of a local clinic.
Probably the largest group is people who don't have internet access. We have about 850 of those. We've been helping them as we hear of clinics, but they're few and far between.
What's come into the mix there is the community vaccination center at the Bon-Ton. We've been referring people directly to that facility and getting them on their list. That's been helpful and we're going to continue to do that.
The third group -- we have a list of about 65 individuals who report that they're not able to get out of their homes. We've been working with Lancaster Emergency Medical Services to make sure that any older adult who is homebound can be vaccinated at home.
Lastly, the transportation issue. We've been fortunate to have a longstanding relationship with (Red Rose Transit Authority. They've committed to providing trans to any older adult who needs to get to a clinic anywhere, whether it be the community vaccination center or any of the smaller ones.
Missing the Senior Games
Wible: Every year for the past 30 years we've done our annual Lancaster Senior Games. It draws over 1,000 older adults from the county.
It's one of our biggest events. We get to see seniors of every age imaginable, from 55 up to 101. It's such an awesome sight, all those older adults participating in athletic activities and just having a great time.
The Senior Games are normally held in May. Last year, the event had to be canceled.
This year we're going have to cancel it again. But we're hoping that as we look at May of 2022, we'll finally be able to get back to (hosting the event). We look for 2022 to be a good year again.