Council on Aging

The COVID-19 pandemic made services for senior citizens even more vital than normal through 2020 and early 2021.

The Central Minnesota Council on Aging (CMCOA) worked with local providers to help seniors with getting meals and groceries, rides to doctors appointments and much more. This allowed them to stay safe while still getting their basic needs met.

In doing so, CMCOA saw its funding go up significantly in 2020, helped along by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and the CARES Act. In all, the organization’s funding went from $2.754 million in 2019 to $4.080 million in 2020. For Morrison County that meant an increase of almost $77,000, going up to $192,014 in 2020 after receiving $115,715 the year before.

“The majority of that funding was for meals for older adults,” said CMCOA Executive Director Lori Vrolson.

Partnerships with organizations such as Lutheran Social Services, Catholic Charities and Horizon Health help CMCOA provide meals to senior citizens in Morrison County. A new program allowed Catholic Charities to provide up to 30 frozen meals per individual once per month to low-income seniors. Those were distributed at both the Little Falls Senior Center and Fellowship Bible Church of Pierz through a joint initiative with local food shelves and the Nutrition Assistance Program for Seniors.

In April 2021 alone, Catholic Charities provided 131 individuals with 3,125 meals. Lutheran Social Services also provided 1,725 total meals to 97 clients, bringing the total to almost 5,000 total meals served.

In 2020, 300 individuals in Morrison County received a total of 19,133 home-delivered meals.

“What typically happens is, if it’s a home-delivered meal to a homebound person, it depends on the individual,” Vrolson said. “Some are getting a hot meal coupled with frozen meals. Normally, home-delivered meals are daily, hot meals. However, since COVID has hit, many seniors have not wanted that daily contact, so the programs have used more frozen meals. Now, at the popup sites that are happening, for example, at the food shelves or at the Senior Center, those are where individuals can come once a month and they can get up to 30 meals. The meals are made from scratch, and then they’re frozen.”

Aside from meals, 45 individuals were served with 520 rides in 2020. Vrolson said that is only half of what is usually provided, mostly because doctors appointments were canceled or postponed when COVID-19 first hit.

That has been slow to pick back up, though Vrolson did note that Horizon Health saw a sizeable increase in rides earlier in 2021 for individuals needing assistance getting to vaccine appointments.

Homemaker services were also up substantially in 2020, jumping to 20 individuals served in 2020 compared to eight in 2019.

“Most of this is for grocery shopping, either taking them to the grocery store, or, during COVID, it’s been more of — their staff has gone out, done the grocery shopping for the individuals and brought them back to them,” Vrolson said.

CMCOA has also worked in recent months with Public Health and local health care providers to ensure everyone who wants a COVID-19 vaccine is able to get one. Particularly, they’ve been organizing ways for homebound seniors to get a shot.

Other services on which CMCOA has just recently partnered with Horizon Health to provide include one-on-one counseling for individuals with mild to moderate depression or anxiety and working with family caregivers to give them training for providing personal care.

“More and more families, especially now with COVID, they’ve been looking to keep their family members home longer versus moving them into an apartment or assisted living,” Vrolson said. “With that, there’s been a gap on what their knowledge is on actually providing hands-on care. So, this online curriculum then, family caregivers will be able to access that at no charge.”

CMCOA provides many of its services through Title III funding, part of the Older Americans Act. The only eligibility requirement for individuals taking advantage of those services is that they are over 60. CMCOA does, however, focus first on low-income seniors.

Vrolson said 2021 funding amounts haven’t been finalized, as CMCOA is awaiting official allocations from the Consolidated Appropriations Act and American Recovery Act. She anticipates those amounts will be about $310,000 and $2.85 million, respectively.

That projected $310,000 from the Consolidated Appropriations Act will impact Morrison County directly. All of that funding will go to Catholic Charities.

“We have asked Catholic Charities to expand services for meals into the northern five counties of our region, so that includes Morrison County,” Vrolson said.

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