Meeting the Challenges During a Pandemic

By David Greenberg

Back in February and March life became complicated for all of us as we struggled with how to deal with a new normal. That included businesses, organizations and individuals.

The challenges were even more difficult for caregivers and seniors and the agencies that support them.

One such agency that literally had to relearn how they deliver services to seniors and their caregivers was Elder Options (the Mid-Florida Area Agency on Aging, Inc.).

Faced with all of these unique obstacles, the staff at Elder Options started planning in early March, and before the end of that month, they had re-invented their operation.

“Word started coming to us at the beginning of March about what was about to happen,” said Elder Options Executive Director Kristen Griffis. “We were gong to have to look at our office operations and how we deliver services. By the middle of the month, we really started facing what we had to do – what the reality was. There was going to be a major impact on our physical operation. We were going to have to get all our people working remotely.”

So, the first step was to get everyone out of the office. That was accomplished by March 27. And that may have been the easy part.

The bigger challenge was going to be how to provide services.

“We were fortunate in some ways because we were one of the Area Agencies in the state already investing in having the right technology and equipment in place to provide remote services,” Griffis said. “We were able to make the change quickly in many areas. Some of our counterparts in other parts of the state were not able to get the equipment we already had because businesses and organizations everywhere were trying to do the same thing.”

The Elder Helpline (800-262-2243) didn’t miss a beat. The call center staff went from the office to their homes without any delay and was able to continue to provide critical information to seniors and caregivers. Screening and intake for Medicaid worked just as smoothly.

“There was a small decrease in calls during the transition, but in the last few months, we have seen an increase,” she said.

The bigger challenge for Elder Options was how to operate their Savvy Caregiver Training and other health and wellness classes, which had always been done face-to-face in the field.

“We had to work with the Department of Elder Affairs to overcome some usual issues,” said Griffis. “In some cases, we were halfway through classes. But our community partners were closing down. Many of our classes were done in assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Overnight, they were not available.”

Yet again, there was some good news.

“The Department of Elder Affairs was very flexible,” she said. “We immediately got permission to go virtual through Zoom. And we were ready. Back in the summer of 2019, we moved to Zoom platforms with some of our meeting partners. We cover a 16-county area, so Zoom was saving us a  lot of time and travel costs.”

The harder part was getting clients to adapt.

“Some use Zoom great. Some have challenges with technology. And some won’t do it at all,” she said.

There was also the issue of getting the right technology to clients who did not have it. That has started to be answered through a $10,000 grant from the North Central Florida Community Foundation. Clients who don’t have the necessary equipment are being identified and tablets with Wi-Fi are being loaned to them. And interns are working with clients and caregivers to teach them how to use the equipment.

All these changes are expected to last at least until Sept. 1.

“We had to make a major pivot to face this new challenge,” said Griffis. “We don’t have it all figured out yet. Some people just don’t want to do it. I worry about them. But overall, we have exceeded my expectations, and I am grateful for that.”

Also in this issue:

Sam Boone on seniors and the pandemic

Celebrating resident success at The Windsor

The Alzheimer’s Association Virtual Caregiver College