By ARDEN BASTIA Like everyone and everything else during the pandemic, Warwick's Senior Services had to change the way they provide assistance. From working with a limited team during the Medicare Open Enrollment registration process to keeping in touch
Like everyone and everything else during the pandemic, Warwick’s Senior Services had to change the way they provide assistance. From working with a limited team during the Medicare Open Enrollment registration process to keeping in touch with residents through wellness calls, and providing virtual activities and classes, the Pilgrim Senior Center has shifted the ways programming is offered.
Because tax season is around the corner, an AARP tax aide program will be available to Warwick seniors starting this week.
In an effort to reduce contact as much as possible, Warwick seniors are encouraged to pick up a packet at the Pilgrim Senior Center between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. The packet provides instructions on beginning the tax process, as well as several documents, which must be completed and returned to the packet prior to calling for an appointment.
Taxpayers can then call the phone number provided in the packet and leave their name and number.
Meg Underwood, director of Warwick senior services, explained that folks from AARP will call to set up an appointment. At the time of the appointment, the senior must be prepared to show a photo ID and Social Security card, and drop off the documents in the packet. Once the return has been prepared, the senior will receive a phone call to pick up the completed tax return.
Staff members at the center are available to assist in completing the 1040H forms, and seniors can call Krystle at (401) 468-4079 to make an appointment.
During this year’s Medicaid open enrollment period, the Senior Health Insurance Program (SHIP) counselors defied odds and helped more than 200 people, saving them over $111,000.
Traditionally, the social services team for SHIP provides one-on-one appointments to seniors to help them through the Medicare Open Enrollment registration process, said Underwood.
Underwood explained that in a typical year, seniors made in-person appointments to speak with a counselor. In some cases, members of the team would provide transportation to the seniors without it. In the past, the senior services team had as many as five volunteers to host group seminars and work with seniors.
“There were many creative and effective ways that our social services team worked around the challenges posed by no-contact counseling,” said Underwood.
First, the team developed their own Advantage Plan chart to clearly compare plans, communicate changes, and provide updates, an invaluable source for those that used the services.
The team scrutinized the chart and updated it for 2021. Copies were made available for contactless pickup and distributed with the meals provided by senior services. People were advised to make a virtual appointment via phone, newsletter, and Facebook.
“There were no volunteers this year, and some neighboring communities didn’t provide SHIP counseling,” said Underwood. “So our three counselors were inundated with requests for assistance.”
Underwood describes the overall process as “fairly seamless,” and by the end of the period, the team assisted over 200 seniors, saving them a total of $111,031. Since 2017, the team has helped seniors save more than $480,000.
Patricia Almonte, supervisor of the social services team, said in an email that she is “so proud” of the team. “Due to the tireless effort of our staff, without the help of our wonderful volunteers, and with an expanded territory, we were able to achieve this through emails, phone calls, snail mail and curbside signups (even in Halloween costumes).”
But that’s not all the team has done for seniors during the pandemic. Warwick senior services started making wellness calls.
“The wellness calls were made early on in the pandemic. We made a list of those we thought might need help with resources or just a friendly voice,” said Underwood. “We began with more than 200 people on the list…it’s amazing what a difference a simple phone call can make!”
While most of the calls were just to check and see if any services were needed, or to chat with a senior who was lonely, one phone call led to actions, which likely saved the life of one senior. Two staff members, Almonte and nurse Paula Ducharme, spoke with a senior who was having pain but refused to seek help, believing the pain would go away. Concerned that the situation was more dire, the nurse contacted a family member who took the senior to the hospital where she received emergency, life-saving surgery.
“We still speak with that senior on an almost daily basis,” added Underwood.
To keep older adults healthy and socially connected, Kathleen Bhol, program manager, created a virtual senior center.
The virtual center is complete with yoga classes, low-impact exercise classes, and creative groups like knitting, poetry, and theater. Programs and fitness classes are recorded and available for streaming, and can be accessed at www.warwick.gov/PilgrimVirtual.
“COVID not only posed a challenge to our patrons’ physical health, but also the sense of community everyone enjoys,” said Bohl in an email.
Another program that the services team ramped up during the pandemic focused on delivering meals and supplemental food. “Our very first concern and priority during the pandemic was getting food to those who were in need,” said Underwood. Right from the start, the social services team provided “grab and go” meals for homebound seniors. During the week, Underwood and her team provide 100 people with meals. Since the beginning of the pandemic, more than 20,000 meals have been distributed.
“I am extraordinarily proud of the work of Warwick’s Senior and Human Services Division. The staff members in those divisions are not just among the most knowledgeable and highly trained in the state, they are the most dedicated and compassionate people,” said Underwood. “You can teach people to make wellness calls, distribute food, and become SHIP counselors. You cannot teach people to be as completely dedicated and enormously compassionate as this staff is.”