The Moore County Senior Enrichment Center on U.S. 15-501 north of Pinehurst may be closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but many of the services it provides continue, albeit in different ways.

Department of Aging Director Terri Protts updated county commissioners Tuesday on how the agency is operating. She said the enrichment center closed to the public March 17 and is now staffed by one or two employees, mainly to field telephone calls. But most services are still being provided in some capacity.

Protts said its in-home aid program, which is licensed by the state as a home health care agency, has continued serving clients without interruption. She said the state did not grant any waivers or exemptions for home care agencies because of the pandemic.

She said the department has seven certified nursing assistants, a lead aid and registered nurse “who are working non-stop and tirelessly.”

“They have been searching and bargaining for personal protective equipment just like everybody else,” Protts said. “Our emergency management staff has been great to help us with masks as we have needed it.”

She said some clients have declined service because they do not want anyone coming into their homes because of concerns about the virus. She said staff is currently serving 95 clients, down from 113 before the pandemic.

Food Distribution Continues

Protts said the state did grant some waivers for its nutrition programs. She said the congregate meal sites at the Enrichment Center and the Westmoore Center have been discontinued.

“We are checking on those people regularly with a phone call,” she said.

She said some of them have opted to receive frozen meals the department began delivering March 30.

“We are not denying anybody, and we have actually increased the number of meals that we are giving out,” Protts said.

She said in the first week of the program, 60 clients received 300 meals. By the week of May 18, it has grown to 84 clients receiving 410 meals.

Protts said staff, not volunteers, deliver five meals to each client every Monday to limit the contact with senior citizens, who are in the high-risk category for developing severe symptoms of the coronavirus.

She said they decided to add new clients, if only on a temporary basis, since some will not be on the routes when home deliveries of hot meals resumes. She said the routes cannot be too long to ensure the meals are hot.

“But we are not denying anybody who tells us they are hungry,” Protts said.

Eventually the congregate meal sites will reopen when the state allows it.

Other Services Modified

Protts said the department continues to operate SHIIP (Senior Health Insurance Information Program) with one paid staff member and a couple of volunteers.

“Even during a pandemic, you still have people turning 65 and getting ready to retire and things like that,” she said. “Of course, referrals are down but we are still reaching out to them by phone since we can’t do them in person at this time.”

Information in her presentation showed that the program helped Moore County residents save $354,000 last year, up from $194,000 in 2018.

Protts said the fitness programs, which would normally take place at the Enrichment Center, are being done virtually.

“This has really impressed me,” she said.

She said a class taught by Chris Pevia takes place four times a week and averages about 18 participants. The department also offers a Tai Chi class for those with arthritis that is taught by Elaine Yamato.

“Her population is an extremely vulnerable population,” Protts said. “Elaine’s class might be only six people. It means the world to them and that has really touched my heart about what she has been able to do without the physical building.”

Protts said both of these instructors “stuck to it” in learning to use technology to keep these classes going.

“They are so excited to be a part of the program and be able to see people,” Protts said.

In addition they send emails to clients each weekday with fitness challenges that include videos, pictures, instructions, riddles, puzzles and motivation to use their brains as well as their bodies. That includes 250 Silver and Fit participants and 95 Cardio Core participants.

“So I am really, really proud of the fitness staff for keeping the people engaged during this difficult time.”

Caregiving Stays Busy

Protts said the Family Caregiver Assistance program continues to be busy, with monthly support groups that now meet virtually. She said caregivers can also call to talk with a staff member.

“They’re dealing with the extra stress of physically taking care of another person in addition to taking care of themselves and others,” she said.

Protts said the department is also continuing its Ensure nutritional supplement program with weekly ordering and pick-up for 12 to 15 clients. She said that requires a doctor’s prescription.

“This is vital in their daily life,” she said.

Protts noted that they received 184 calls for information and assistance in April.

She said a newer program, “Good Call Connections” pairs volunteers with “socially isolated” older adults. The volunteer calls daily to check on them and just to give them someone to talk to on a regular basis. She said the program currently has 27 clients and 20 volunteers.

Anyone interested in receiving a call or to volunteer can visit the Moore County government website at www.moorecountync.gov/aging/services.

Protts said things are “still going strong” with the Enrichment Center’s services.

“We anxiously await the arrival of our participants to come back,” she said. “The building can see upwards of 250 people a day, so it is really weird to be in that huge building all by ourselves, but we know it is safe for them the way we are operating now. We are also waiting on directives from the state how to reopen, which we figure will be phase 3 for us.”

Commissioner Louis Gregory thanked Protts and her staff for what they are doing for older adults.

“If ever there was a time for support of the Department of Aging, it is now,” Gregory said. “My heart goes to those who are working in this program and those who are in need.”

Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or dsinclair@thepilot.com

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