By Stephen Smoot
“The most important impact that our centers have on the community is the ability to help keep seniors in their homes as long as possible,” said Janice Lantz, executive director of Pendleton County Senior and Family Services. She shared this after last week’s West Virginia Directors of Senior and Community Services conference and banquet held at Canaan Valley resort.
The conference drew senior center directors from around the state to learn more about state developments, best practices, and more.
After attendees enjoyed a tremendous meal, they heard a presentation from Jennifer Brown, president of WVDSCS, as well as the executive director of the Council on Aging and Janie Lou White, executive director of Preston County Senior Citizens Inc.
Brown explained first that “senior centers are efficient providers” of a variety of services “even in the most remote parts of West Virginia, and are so much more than bingo.”
White explained that “we have evidence from research that shows that people who get services through senior centers have more frequent interaction with the health care system, but it’s on the lower cost end. Those who do not participate in senior centers have less frequent interactions, but at the higher cost end, such as intensive care units, emergency rooms, and specialized treatments.”
“We have contact with people,” White stated, adding that drivers and staff often notice when something is wrong and encourage the senior to get checked out.
Lantz agreed that senior centers contribute to health and well-being, saying, “Being able to have our staff check on individuals that want to remain in their home is so important, whether through our in-home services programs or our home delivered meals, having that one person to make sure that individuals are safe and cared for makes a huge difference in our communities.”
Brown explained that senior centers perform four major categories of activities. These include basic everyday help. She shared that senior center staff and drivers have helped to move furniture, brought loads of firewood, and even shoveled snow and plunged toilets.
Next, she discussed nutrition programs, both in terms of meals served on site and also delivered to the home. White stated that “meals that we’re providing tend to be their big meal of the day.”
Transportation by senior services also fills a vital need. Some mostly ride back and forth from home to the center, but others need rides to the doctor or other help.
Finally, senior centers provide areas for social interaction. Brown mentioned that Lewis County seniors have taken up making videos. The Senior Olympics, held regionally at Potomac State College, also serve as a fun way to stay active and socialize. Typically, centers will host bingo games, have game rooms, or just provide a place where seniors can meet and talk.
“Socialization plays a huge role in how well people adapt to change,” White shared.
“Of all the issues senior centers face right now,” Lantz stated that “funding is the most important. Without increased funding our centers are going to continue to be challenged to hire workers because we cannot afford to pay our staff what other businesses and agencies can. Without workers our services will continue to decrease. Also, the cost of everything continues to go up, but we do not see an increase in our funding. Without an increase in our funding, our centers, seniors and the communities we serve will suffer.”
White said, “We have struggled even before COVID to keep up our workforce.” Salaries often struggle to compete with even fast food jobs in recent years. Paying in-home caregivers has grown difficult as well.
Elected and other officials joined the directors at the banquet to learn more and share information. These included State Senators Bill Hamilton and Randy Smith, Delegates Buck Jennings, George Street, and John Paul Hott, and also Daryl Cowles, the representative of Governor Jim Justice. Michael Rosenau, president of the Tucker County Commission, also joined.
From the senior services community came Ashley Anderson from the Upper Potomac Valley Agency on Aging and Melissa Earle from Region Eight.