The Block Island Times
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Senior committee explores new program options

By Gloria S. Redlich | Dec 16, 2013

Members of the Senior Advisory Committee (SAC) are looking into a new program for seniors, called University of the Third Age (U3A).

This program is popular in Europe but is only beginning to gain a foothold here in the U.S.

According to its website, “Local U3As are learning cooperatives which draw upon the knowledge, experience and skills of their own members to organize and provide interest groups in accordance with the wishes of the membership.”

Committee Chair Gail Pierce said she had spoken with Elspeth Crawford, who had given her some literature describing the program.

Though U3A only exists in a few places in the United States, Crawford suggested the SAC might be interested in learning more about it and perhaps working the idea into the development of programs for those more than 55 years old in the island community. More discussion was tabled for the next meeting.

Pierce spoke of a letter the group had been working on to bring a proposal for an emergency notification system to the Town Council. At this point, with research done by the group, such a system — one that is used at the island school — might be available to the town at a cost of $1.00 per household. Spak said the group was hoping to make a presentation to the council at the its Dec. 18 meeting or the next available one.

Kelly, who has organized past safety demonstrations on the use of AED’s (defibrillators), CPR and smoke alarms, said that the Fire and Rescue Auxiliary held a demonstration on Dec. 3, after Lunch Bunch at the Community Center. The topic was smoke and fire alarms, and members provided assistance to install or replace batteries.

Pierce noted that FISH (Friends in Service Helping) still had more volunteers available to assist people — for transportation, chores around the house and personal assistance — than persons asking to be helped. At the time of the meeting Pierce said there was a list of eight or nine available individuals. Anybody wishing assistance should call Pierce at 466-5470.

Partnering with BIHS

Members of the SAC recently considered pursuing a joint effort with the island medical center, but the two organizations may not be able to help each other as much as the SAC hoped. Several SAC members recently met with Block Island Health Services (BIHS) Executive Director Barbara Baldwin, a discussion about which Spak reported during SAC’s most recent meeting.

Though she thought it important to “connect and partner with the medical center,” Spak said she came away from the meeting disappointed. “We felt pretty strongly about the need to maintain a list of potential caregivers that a senior might hire, and hoped the medical center could help with that,” she said.

However, Spak noted that Baldwin said the medical center couldn’t maintain that kind of list “because it would expose [BIHS] legally.” Spak also said years ago there had been a class offered for Certified Nursing Assistants (CNA’s), and she noted there was a service on the mainland that might provide the trainers. Spak hoped the medical center could sponsor such a class, but indicated that Baldwin said BIHS could not do so.

Spak felt it was important “for someone to be available to check on the elderly population, to assess their living conditions and what their needs were” and making these known so that the appropriate services might be found. Baldwin suggested that SAC approach South County Community Action Agency (SCCA), Spak said.

Noting that there were several situations, some of which might converge with medical needs, Spak believed that BIHS “needs to be involved.” For that reason, she suggested that members of SAC go back to the medical center to convey the level of the group’s frustration and try to work together to find resolutions.

Reached after the meeting, Baldwin clarified the position of BIHS. Acknowledging areas of common concern, she said, “We share some of their frustrations and the difficulties in identifying resources on Block Island.” However, she added that the health center was not “in a position to” take on those responsibilities. She said that there were issues of time, resources and liability for BIHS.

Regarding the training program for CNAs, Baldwin said she had checked on a past effort to start one a number of years ago. At the time, she pointed out, the tuition was very high and people on the island were unable to take the course.

“I referred the Senior Advisory to South County Community Action because we’re in their catchment area,” Baldwin said.

The next meeting is Dec. 17 at 9:30 a.m.

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