The pandemic has been a burden to seniors everywhere, and as it enters its second year, resources for helping the elderly or infirm—particularly those with no other means of assistance—are being stretched to the breaking point.
“We are getting more people applying for our help, particularly the nutrition programs and Meals on Wheels,” said Pauline Valdivia, executive director of Jovenes de Antaño del Condado de San Benito. “We have not turned anyone down and it is a big dent in our budget. With all that we do, it becomes a challenge because we need more staff to take care of everyone.”
Jovenes de Antaño was founded in 1975 to assist the elderly in San Benito County, particularly low-income seniors in the Latino community. They provide referral services, health information, an adult daycare program and family caregiver support. They also offer a senior nutrition program that incorporates Meals on Wheels with food they prepare and distribute themselves. There are 25 members of the staff servicing 950 individuals in San Benito County. There are usually up to 25 volunteers, who are currently not allowed to help because of COVID restrictions. The increased demand resulting from the coronavirus has left the nonprofit short-staffed and underfunded.
One area of concern is screening new applicants to find what resources and assistance they may qualify for from federal, state, or county programs.
“Case management is a challenge,” Valdivia said. “We usually do that in person and we can’t do it that way anymore. We might only see someone in person if we need to get a signature or something. Even then, our program managers don’t go into the homes. They have to wait outside until the person comes out.”
Being unable to do in-person assessments means some people might be kept from getting care they are not aware they need. It also complicates things down the line for when case managers are able to meet with people face-to-face.
“When we are dealing with somebody in need, it might be a shut-in who doesn’t have anyone else,” Valdivia said. “When we can go into the house we can identify different obstacles in the home that need to be taken care of to help the person. So when things get better we are going to have to go out and reassess everyone again to be sure they are getting all the services and care they need.”
Being able to correctly assess the needs of the elderly and shut-ins is critical to their health, said Vanessa Aguilera, associate family consultant with the Health Projects Center.
“A lot of people don’t have a health advocate, so that is a big issue,” Aguilera said. “Some people I come across in emergency rooms are suffering from things that could have been prevented if treated in time. It ultimately is a misuse of emergency services when a visit to a health care provider could have resolved the problem. And it creates a greater financial burden to the person who needs care as well.”
Care that might be provided to patients who would normally be admitted to nursing homes is also complicated by COVID-19. A patient may be denied entry to a nursing home as a measure to protect them and patients already in the home. When that happens, Jovenes de Antaño might be called in to fill the gaps in care.
“I took a call the other day from a woman who was getting out of the hospital,” Valdivia said. “She was supposed to go into a nursing home, but they canceled on her. And she is leaving the hospital with a multitude of needs. So I have to arrange transportation and she needs a walker and a wheelchair for her home. Some of these things get taken care of through Social Security, but that takes time. Some of those things we can provide, then work with our staff to be sure she gets into the programs she needs.”
Concern over coronavirus spread may mean that seniors are left alone without transportation for medical appointments, shopping or running errands.
“We end up having to take over from caregivers or the person’s loved ones,” Valdivia said. “They might not be going to these homes because of the risk of spreading the virus. We provide the service for them, but it is harder for us now because of social distancing. We can’t transport more than two people at a time, so it means more time and more trips for the staff.”
With an increase in people needing help with transportation and meal services, Jovenes de Antaño works to find funding from sources such as the United Way of San Benito County and relief money from state and federal government agencies. But sometimes delays in receiving funds become problematic.
“We are able to carry the expenses, but it is very difficult,” Valdivia said. “We just applied for more money and it will go to Meals on Wheels. But we had one contract that was approved in July and we are still waiting for the money. That money was supposed to cover 50 people so you can imagine what that is doing for our budget.”
Despite funding shortfalls or understaffing, Jovenes de Antaño’s doors are still open to anyone who qualifies for their services.
“We are not turning anybody down for programs like Meals on Wheels,” Valdivia said. “The people need the food and they appreciate it. We might be waiting for money to come in, but in the meantime, we are still going to be caring for those people.”
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