Senior Advisory continues to review goals
“Where are we? And where are we going?” With these questions, Chair Gail Pierce opened the Jan. 21 meeting of the Senior Advisory Committee (SAC), asking members to reexamine the group’s charge.
Pointing out the committee had been formed in 2007, with a particular set of directives, she summarized them as follows:
To identify, organize and promote programs for seniors living on Block Island (in addition to existing programs).
To consult with seniors and advise the town about their needs, identifying island-unique problems. Also to propose solutions and actions to benefit island seniors.
By the end of the first year, to report [the group’s] findings and make suggestions, including recommendations on the continuation of the committee.
Former SAC member Bill Wilson reminded the group of an earlier goal, taken up in the past when Barbara MacDougal and the late Weld Cox had worked on developing a senior citizen residence. Pierce added that a few years later, Block Island Development took up the same project, but in each case, the proposal was dropped because of anticipated high costs.
One of her prominent concerns, Pierce said, was that a number of seniors were moving off island — mostly, she believed, for medical reasons. She said one of the most serious situations for seniors was maintaining their residences on island.
Another issue for seniors, Sandra Hopf added, was transportation — noting the difficulty for some seniors in getting around or off island.
One of the recurring problems for the Advisory, Pierce noted, has been that people were reluctant to ask for help. Sandra Kelly felt it was “all about independence.” She said, “It’s hard to give up independence and I think that’s what we’re seeing. I don’t know that we can provide a facility.”
Seeking alternatives, Dottie Graham said, “If we can’t come up with a live-in center, perhaps take it down a bit: What is it about assisted living that we could provide?” She explained that she and a subcommittee had determined there were some 15 people who have such concerns. She suggested, “Perhaps we should go to them directly and ask what they’d need.”
Linda Spak said, “I think we need to partner with the Medical Center because there’s so much that people need.” She added, “I’m very frustrated,” referring to recent discussions with Block Island Health Services (BIHS) Executive Director Barbara Baldwin. Baldwin has spoken of liability issues that precluded collaboration on patient needs.
Some of these needs are for seniors living alone, for assistance with meal preparation, taking medications, housekeeping, or with getting out to the grocery, the post office, the library or the medical center.
Spak suggested inviting BIHS board President Bob Fallon to an SAC meeting. She ultimately hoped there might be a way for the medical center to let [patients] know that help was available in many areas.
Hopf asked, “Could we develop a little card about what services can be provided that the medical center could distribute to its patients.”
Wilson said. “The need is for a social worker,” adding “I hope you won’t forget there is an opening of a social welfare director that’s currently unfunded.” He thought the SAC should look into it.
Pierce said the library had been expanding programs and activities, which provided more social outlets for seniors as well, perhaps freeing up SAC to focus more on advocacy and for developing special programs and services.
University of the Third Age (U3A)
Board member Elspeth Crawford made a presentation to committee members that she felt might align with some of their objectives. She introduced them to the program known in many countries of the world as the University of the Third Age. It is intended “for people in retirement or semi-retirement [enabling them] to share intellectual, cultural, creative, physical and leisure interests.”
Crawford, who’s been a member in the United Kingdom and in a number of other countries, said the organization has “no central body,” but rather described it as “a distributed network” that operates on the fundamental belief that in addition to their many interests, “older people have a lot of resources.”
Though she hasn’t found U3A in the United States, Crawford noted that it was similar to many Elderhostel programs and Institutes for Learning in Retirement here. Their shared goals were, she said, “fostering social growth through meetings and field trips and in generally recognizing that not only physical but intellectual activity enrich later life.”
Crawford said that the groups usually met in “venues such as homes, libraries, churches or community centers,” similar to the way many gatherings do on island. She explained that the island already had a number of these groups: the Crazy as a Coot Bird Walkers, the Let’s Dine, Mahjong, bridge, writing and book groups.
U3A interest groups operate, Crawford said, as “absolutely autonomous entities—self-forming and self-managing.” She added that she’d been puzzled about how to get this kind of enterprise going, and decided to bring it to the SAC hoping for its support.
She felt that the Advisory could provide the umbrella under which such groups could develop and operate.
With members very interested, Kelly and Pierce agreed to form a committee to meet with Crawford to continue the discussion.
A town-wide notification system
On another issue, Kelly reported that she and a subcommittee had been working on a presentation to the Town Council proposing a town-wide communication system. Kelly said they’d found a company that currently works with the school that would charge one dollar per household. If the town approved the plan, she said, the company would offer a reduction to the school.
For the same cost, messages would be delivered in any or all of four ways: cell phone, landlines, email or a text. Kelly said the group was hoping to get on the Town Council’s agenda for its March meeting.
Wishing to step out of the role of chair, Pierce asked for others to volunteer to the post. After much deliberation, she got half her wish as Kelly agreed to co-chair with her. The committee also approved Dottie Graham as vice chair and Debbie Martin as secretary.
Kelly reminded the group that chair aerobics with Robin Lewis was continuing each Tuesday and Friday at 10:30 a.m. at the Community Center. She also said there would be an AED (defibrillator) demonstration on Tuesday, Feb. 4 at 4:00 p.m. Interested persons may RSVP on the Block Island Bulletin Board or call Linda Spak at 466-5440.
The group scheduled a special meeting for Feb. 3 to work on the budget and set its next regular meeting for Feb. 18.