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Agencies at Senior Forum Look at Ways to Work Together

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March 11, 2008 — More than 20 public and private agencies that provide services for senior citizens joined together Tuesday to determine how the territory can best make itself "elder-ready."
The Human Services Department forum, called "Developing the Framework for Providing Continuum Services to Seniors," is a first for the agency.
"If ever there was one area where we need to get together, this is it," said Assistant Human Services Commissioner Michal Rhymer Charles. "We need to bridge the gap, identify the gaps in services, and find out how to fill them."
Charles discussed the concept of integrated services, and asked for volunteers.
"Every day we need workers, cars, supplies — we can't do it alone," she told the group. "We are here to engage you. We will be calling you. We can't succeed without integrated services."
But Charles also noted barriers to the initiative: "funding limitations, lack of services, inter- and intra-agency turf battles, the size and complexity of the system."
Human Services Commissioner Christopher Finch gave an overview of what the territory is looking at in senior care. By 2010, he said, "We should anticipate 9,000 members of our population to be over 65."
His figures are based on the 2000 census projections.
"We have about 100 beds across the territory now," Finch said. "The Sea View Nursing Home has 40, the Herbert Grigg Home has 40, and the Queen Louise home has 25. With a population of 9,000, we should be have at least five percent, which would be 450 beds."
Appeals to his office illustrate the problem.
"Every day we get calls, loads of calls, begging us to find a home for elderly family members," he said. "Some people simply drop old folks off at the hospital and don't pick them up."
Citing a story in Monday's Source, Finch said, "The Juan Luis Hospital has 16 beds taken up by people with nowhere to go." (See "All Healed Up and No Place to Go: Long-Term Patients Tie Up Hospital Beds.")
The Schneider Regional Medical Center experiences the same problem.
This is but one of the myriad problems facing those who provide services for the senior community.
"We all want to age at home gracefully as long as possible," said Eva Williams, Human Services administrator of senior citizen affairs. "One of our major challenges, is getting families to take care of their elderly members. You can't simply leave them at the hospital. We need education."
Added Charles, "Knowledge is power, and people are empowered when they are aware of services available."
Those services were represented Tuesday by a number of agencies, including the private Sea View Nursing facility, United Way, AARP, St. Ursula Multipurpose Center on St. John, the Salvation Army, Continuum Care, Dial-A-Ride, the Human Services Nutrition program, Meals on Wheels, the community senior centers and the pharmaceutical-assistance program.
Meals on Wheels serves are the "eyes and ears" of the senior program, said Jocelyn Forbes, department nutritionist: "They go in homes on a regular basis. They see the needs. They are our referral service, and right now it's reached crisis proportions."
Speaking later, Charles was elated with the success of the day and the "action plans" developed, but noted many needs: "We need a referral system, an up-to-date directory for community services. We need mental-health counseling — loneliness, depression, alcoholism, all need to be treated."
Outreach programs are planned for May, Senior Citizens' Month, at Tutu Mall on St. Thomas and Sunny Isle Shopping Center on St. Croix.
For questions about the Senior Focus Group, call Williams at 772-9811 or Dr. Celia Victor, director of clinical compliance, at 774-1166.
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