As the coronavirus pandemic continues, local towns do not want seniors and anyone with underlying health concerns to feel isolated or behind. Bethlehem Senior Services Department
Editor’s note: This online article was updated on Tuesday, March 24 at 1:35 p.m. to include Colonie Senior Service Centers’ input and clarify that Colonie Senior Service Centers and the Town of Colonie Senior Resources Department are different entities.
The article’s original online version and in the March 25 Colonie-Loudonville print issue of Spotlight News incorrectly used them interchangeably. The April 1 Delmar-Guilderland print issue of Spotlight News will reflect the corrections.
While the elderly are among the most vulnerable people to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, the towns of Bethlehem and Colonie are working to still look out for senior residents and families in need.
To curb the COVID-19 spread, Bethlehem and Colonie closed town buildings to the public and canceled many senior-oriented events, social gatherings and programs. This caused many seniors to stay home as a precaution and have limited resources to benefit from.
William Vail, the Bethlehem Senior Services acting director, said his department suspended transportation — town-owned cars and vans — for seniors through April 6, and will reevaluate it on April 1. Such transportation helped bring seniors to run errands or go for medical appointments.
“We generally run vans that hold 13 people but we’re not putting 13 seniors on a van anymore,” he said. “Immediately, we’ve had to adapt to the circumstances as they unfold.”
However, Town Supervisor David VanLuven said that only one person, a senior who requires transportation to their dialysis appointments, is the exception to this rule. An assigned driver and a disinfected bus now serve that individual. “The Senior Services department has been very impressive,” VanLuven said. “People don’t realize they’re necessary and what resources they have that are often taken for granted.”
Vail brought up that his department also continues to run the food pantry, albeit with a reduced staff of three inside Town Hall, that serves families in need. “We have frozen meats, butter, cheeses, sometimes eggs and milk, and a great deal of non-perishable food items,” he said. “We get our food from the Regional Food Bank [of Northeastern New York] for example. We also consistently get donations from our wonderful community and there’s a drop-off at McCarroll’s.”
He added that families must call his department at 518-439-4955, ext. 1173 or 1175 to order from the food pantry and schedule an appointment to pick it up outside a side door at Town Hall. Such appointments are 20 minutes apart, minimizing physical contact with other families.
Diane Conroy-LaCivita, the executive director of the private, non-profit Colonie Senior Service Centers, said her organization’s workforce has been reduced to 12 people. However, they still provide hot meals for struggling Colonie seniors every day, provide transportation and help do grocery shopping and pick up seniors’ prescriptions.
“I want to give credit to our amazing staff who work seven days a week,” she said.
To pre-order a takeout meal for home delivery, call 518-459-2857 ext. 303 and there’s a suggested $3 contribution. For more information, call colonieseniors.org.
For more information for senior transportation, call 518-459-6064, option 2 or visit www.colonie.org/departments/seniors/transportation-services.
Christine Cary, the Town of Colonie Senior Resources Department’s director, wrote in an email that the COVID-19 pandemic brings up additional concerns, like how seniors may feel isolated because of their age, health and are not as connected on social media and the internet.
“The staff of Senior Resources is reaching out to seniors who have been served by [the Colonie Senior Resources Department], providing wellness checks to ensure their basic needs are being met,” she wrote. “If they are in need of assistance we are making linkages to community partners such as Colonie Senior Service Centers, Albany County Department of Social Services and other community organizations to assist with meals, transportation and other essential needs.”
Joyce Becker, a Bethlehem Town Board member and the town’s Senior Projects’ assistant treasurer, said addressing isolationism among seniors is important.
“I think the most important thing is checking on your neighbors and residents who are older,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be in person. I also encourage older folks to reach out to their Senior Services office and ask them questions if they’re concerned.”
She continued, “We’ve heard stories about the Great Depression from our parents and grandparents so this pandemic is a repeat in some ways of that. In my mind, I remember my mother and father talking about the Great Depression and this really hits home. Let’s stop and think about what we really need in order to exist, not what we want.”
Becker connected her last point with how stores like Walmart, Price Chopper and Target have designated special hour-long shopping times for customers aged 60 and older, which are one hour before the stores open to the general public.
This initiative emerged after panic buying became common nationwide, leaving seniors concerned about physically coming in contact with others and not able to get supplies they need that may run out. Examples include non-perishable food, toilet paper, paper towels, hand sanitizers and soap.
For instance, Walmart announced Wednesday, March 18, that all stores will open from 6 to 7 a.m. on Tuesdays from March 24 to April 28, for customers aged 60 and older. Also, Target is dedicating the first hour of shopping every Wednesday for vulnerable guests and those with underlying health concerns.
“I think all that is very wise because many seniors are up in those early hours and they could call stores like Hannaford and ShopRite about whether they have special hours,” Becker said. “Seniors can look into home delivery of groceries too.”
Looking ahead, Vail, Becker and Cary agreed that towns and residents should not stop looking out for one another, especially seniors and those in need.
Cary wrote that while reaching out to seniors, “I am finding very much a sense of neighbors helping neighbors, which is encouraging as I believe the support will be needed long term. Mostly they are appreciative that they are being checked on and welcome the phone visit.”
Vail brought up that the Albany County Sheriff’s and Bethlehem Police departments maintain a list of Bethlehem senior residents who are isolated.
“We’ve put together an emergency special needs registry of people who are isolated and have minimal resources like families and friends not able to check up on or visit them,” Vail said. “We’ll call everyone on that registry to check up on them and ask what they may need. We’re also encouraging any others to call us if their secure system like resources, families and friends falter.”
Becker said she has never experienced a global pandemic that has such dramatic effects at the local level. “This is now totally something new to our country and it’s bigger than us. Working together in town government as a team is important and I can’t say enough how great our employees are,” she concluded. “Stay safe and reach out if you need assistance.”
For more information, contact Bethlehem Senior Services at 518-439-4955 ext.117, Colonie Senior Resources at 518-459-5051 or Colonie Senior Service Centers at 518-459-2857 ext. 303.
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