Assessing its options

The Keene Senior Center on Court Street in Keene.

As the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, continues to spread, local organizations are looking for ways to ensure their high-risk senior populations are taken care of.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, older adults, and particularly people with diabetes, lung or heart disease, are especially vulnerable to the disease.

Nonprofit agencies in the Monadnock Region have taken steps to not only prevent seniors from being exposed to the virus, but ensure their needs are met as they’re urged to stay home as much as possible.

The Keene Senior Center has been closed temporarily since Saturday, according to a notice on its website. The notice says the center has been communicating with local health organizations, which helped to inform its decision to close and suspend all activities.

Cheshire Village at Home, a program operated by the senior center that provides transportation to medical appointments, as well as grocery and medicine delivery, is still operating, but under some limitations.

According to membership director Elizabeth Williams, the program is still working with community organizations that offer to-go services, such as Hannaford To Go, to make sure seniors have the groceries they need. It is also continuing to offer prescription pick-ups.

(After this story was written, Hannaford announced that it would be suspending To Go services, effective Thursday. Existing orders were suspended on Wednesday, according to a Hannaford spokesperson.) 

However, Cheshire Village at Home has cut back on its medical appointment transportation program.

“It has to be something that can’t be postponed,” Williams said Wednesday, explaining that only urgent appointments or those that cannot be rescheduled will be accommodated.

Keene Senior Center Director Cameron Tease said he’s been in talks with a number of local organizations about what can be done for seniors who are keeping to themselves.

In the meantime, he said, the best way to help seniors is for their neighbors to check in on them with a phone call. That way, if they need something, they know they have someone to turn to.

“The calling, although that seems fairly fundamental, may be the most important thing somebody can do,” Tease said. “ ... Knowing who your network is in your neighborhood, it gives seniors ... a sense of comfort and they don’t have to wait until there’s a real emergency. They’ve established some links that could be very useful.”

He added that locals should write down the phone numbers of older neighbors’ family members so they can contact them in case of an emergency.

As far as getting isolated seniors the items they need while they’re stuck at home, such as groceries or medicine, Tease said neighbors are likely to be the biggest help while local organizations try to work out a plan.

“I think everybody really wants to help,” he said. “If a senior would call a neighbor [for help], I think the neighbor would be happy to be a resource.”

Susan Ashworth, director of community relations with Home Healthcare, Hospice & Community Services, said the organization is still operating most of its programs and services for seniors in Cheshire County.

The Friendly Bus and the City Bus are still running, nurses and therapy specialists are making home visits and the Homemaker program is still seeing that essential chores get done for seniors who may need some help keeping their homes tidy.

The Meals on Wheels program is also still going — and with some other programs shuttered, like the group lunches and adult day program, staff members are being moved to Meals on Wheels to accommodate an anticipated increase in service requests. While drivers are observing social distancing practices, they’re still performing what Ashworth described as a key function of the program — visiting with clients.

“One of the essential parts of Meals on Wheels is that [drivers] do a safety check,” she said. “Knocking on the door, letting the person know their meal is here and either seeing or hearing that the person is OK. And for many, many people on Meals on Wheels, the driver is the only connection that person is seeing throughout the day. That little bit of humanity is very important to them.”

The program currently serves 400 people across Cheshire County.

As for the busing programs, the Friendly Bus is trying to accommodate only one passenger at a time, while City Bus passengers are being allowed enough space to sit the recommended six feet apart.

Similarly, Mary Lou Huffling of the Alstead-based Fall Mountain Food Shelf said the organization is still working to feed seniors, and families, during the coronavirus outbreak. She said more than 90 people were served on Wednesday alone. People aren’t allowed into the pantry, but workers are bringing boxes of food out to cars as they arrive.

“We hope that the older people that are in need of food and are having a hard time will call,” she said.

For those older adults who are venturing out occasionally, some local groceries have set aside hours for older adults.

Dollar General stores have designated their first hour of operation for shoppers age 60 and up. On Wednesday, Market Basket announced that it would also designate certain hours for senior shoppers, starting Thursday.

“Each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 5:30 to 7:00 a.m., the stores will be open only to serve customers 60 and older,” Market Basket posted to its Facebook page on Wednesday afternoon. “This is designed to enable these members of our community who are at greater risk with the coronavirus to shop in a less crowded environment, which enables social distancing.”

In Vermont, Windham County Sheriff Mark R. Anderson issued a news release encouraging seniors and people who are homebound, injured or ill to subscribe to the “Are You OK?” program. Operated by a company of the same name, it offers a regular, scheduled call to check someone’s welfare. The program is free and allows for a check-in while also observing social distancing practices.

This story has been updated to include Hannaford's announcement that it was suspending to-go ordering.

Anyone looking for up-to-date health information about the coronavirus can call 211, the state’s hotline. Those interested in signing up for Meals on Wheels can call 352-2253. Anyone interested in contacting the Fall Mountain Food Shelf can call 835-2283.

Mia Summerson can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1435, or msummerson@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @MiaSummerson