As professionals caring for older patients during COVID-19, it's critical that we stay informed about community assistance available to older adults and their families. The Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee (COA) is a trusted nonprofit that assists patients, caregivers and professionals as they navigate options to find help. Through our comprehensive Directory of Services, free Helpline, and caregiving guides, we connect hundreds of older adults and caregivers with community resources and services.
To guide our existing efforts, improve communications and outreach, and pivot services in response to the pandemic, COA convened our Leadership Council in April and surveyed members to assess the challenges and unmet needs of older adults and family caregivers during COVID-19. These members, representing more than 20 senior service organizations, reported that social isolation, access to food and medication, and supporting caregivers were the biggest challenges. They also said social connection, relief for caregivers, food access/delivery and emergency financial assistance were the needs not being addressed adequately.
In response, COA has created a helpful COVID-19 resource list that is available on our website (coamidtn.org). The list will also be available in Spanish, Arabic and Kurdish in September. Additionally, the Directory of Services - an impartial listing of services and resources available in 13 Middle Tennessee counties - may be found online along with our Aging & Caring and Grandparents Raising Grandchildren guidebooks. Hardcopies are also available for healthcare providers wishing to make these available to older patients.
Over the past several months, COA has also experienced a 100 percent increase in calls to our Helpline (615-353-4235) as older adults try their best to stay healthy and manage the negative impacts of the pandemic. Similar to what we are hearing from our Leadership Council, the following are some of the most frequent concerns and requests we are receiving:
- How to apply for financial assistance like unemployment benefits, property tax assistance and emergency financial assistance,
- Where to find and sign up for food and meal delivery, or pick up,
- How to seek legal advice related to potential eviction or homelessness, abuse, financial exploitation, or lack of access to benefits,
- Moving aging parents to town and needing to know how to enroll them into Tennessee Medicaid/TennCare,
- How to pay for in-home and long term care with limited income, and how to apply for the TennCare CHOICES program,
- Identifying and preventing scams when contacted by fake contractors or grant opportunities,
- The best methods for dealing with stress and maintaining mental health when caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's or a related dementia, and
- What to do about feelings of loneliness and isolation while staying home to avoid exposure to COVID-19.
Fortunately, there are many government and nonprofit agencies that are working together to adapt services and ensure that older residents and caregivers find support during these challenging times. Friendly phone calls, drive through food distribution, distanced porch visits and meal deliveries, and video and phone counseling are just some of the ways that our community is helping older adults and caregivers maintain their health and stay connected.
As a community of providers and professionals, we are all working together to help older adults and their families through these unprecedented times. As COA continues to do what we do best, we encourage providers and community organizations serving older adults to use and share our resources with clients and patients.
Grace Sutherland Smith is executive director of the Council on Aging of Middle Tennessee, an independent, board directed 501(c) 3 nonprofit that champions informed and positive aging and serves as the area's catalyst for collaborative solutions. COA provides free information and referral, community education, caregiver resources, elder abuse and scam prevention, advocacy, support for senior transportation and the Directory of Services. Reach out to Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or learn more about COA's scope of work at coamidtn.org.