Morrison County receives about $160,000 to fund programs for older adults from the Central Minnesota Council on Aging (CMCOA). The CMCOA is a non-profit serving 14 counties in the region and helps older adults by advocating for issues related to their age, connecting them to resources and providing community services.

Executive Director Lori Vrolson said CMCOA contracts with three providers in the county: Horizon Health, Lutheran Social Services (LSS) and Mid-Minnesota Legal Services. The organization is also working on a smaller contract, but services through that partnership aren’t available due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The programs that we have, have really done a great job since the onset of COVID to really revamp their service delivery to older adults and develop new partnerships to get the needed services out there,” Vrolson said.

Horizon Health is funded to provide assisted transportation, homemaking, grocery shopping and delivery as well as respite care and caregiver coaching, she said. But many of those services are suspended due to virus concerns.

Vrolson said, with hospitals offering more in-person appointments and services, the need for assisted transportation has grown. That need was typically fulfilled by about 51 volunteers, mostly older adults who are vulnerable to more intense COVID-19 symptoms and hospitalization. Vrolson said that transportation volunteers have now dwindled to five active volunteers.

“The volunteer aspect of that has been hit very hard for them as we are seeing with all of our programs that we provide funding to. Most of them rely heavily on volunteers,” she said. “It is a great concern when we have no driver services being provided by volunteers.”

Many older adults seek transportation assistance for recurring dialysis appointments and elective procedures. The program has attempted to match each patient with a single volunteer schedule to ensure consistency and decrease contact with multiple people, said Vrolson.

CMCOA has been working on volunteer outreach and to provide services to those who need it even with limited staff and volunteers.

Meals services and delivery is provided mostly through LSS, Vrolson said. The program used to provide an in-person group meal but has since begun cooking and freezing a week’s worth of meals for people to pick up or receive delivery depending on their need.

With the lack of volunteers, LSS has opted to provide those services with paid staff, a method that may not be sustainable in the long-term.

“We are really going to end up, and this is across the state, in a volunteer crisis when COVID is done,” Vrolson said.

Some barriers for volunteer incentive include difficulties with vehicle insurance classification and mileage reimbursement, Vrolson said. And her organization has been working to change legislation to eliminate those barriers.

Another aspect of concern is the socialization older adults are missing out on with the lack of in-person services. Prior to the pandemic, there was a program that involved a volunteer picking an older adult up from their residence, bringing them to the store to assist with shopping and then bringing them home to help put groceries away.

“A lot of social interaction,” Vrolson said.

Now those same grocery deliveries are provided, but an order is simply picked up and dropped off at a residence without the person leaving their home.

“That leaves a really big hole in that social aspect of it. So some of the things that we’re doing is we’re allowing our providers to use other dollars to look at doing telephone reassurance and friendly visits ... just to keep them socially engaged,” Vrolson said.

The CMCOA is also looking to contract with local food shelves to help deliver meals, as that has been a service targeted by the CMCOA board for funding. Vrolson said that LSS would prepare and freeze the meals as always, but local food shelves would either deliver them or allow their older adult (over 60) population to pick them up.

That program will start as soon as CARES ACT funding comes in from the government, Vrolson said.

The Council on Aging group also provides a Senior LinkAge Line for older adults with free information and assistance with community housing and services. The line is available to those older adults and caregivers looking for help. The service used to include an outreach service by a social worker, but since face-to-face contact isn’t an option, all services are provided over the phone.

Organizations that provide services to older adults in the community can apply for a grant of up to $10,000 through CMCOA, Vrolson said. The organization received $100,000 from the Minnesota Council on Foundations (MCF) to sub-award organizations serving older adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Qualifying organizations include non-profits, senior centers, tribal organizations or faith communities who show a need and ability to provide to an older adult population.

Information for grant funding or volunteer opportunities can be found at www.cmcoa.org.

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