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Bertie Council on Aging helps seniors help themselves

WINDSOR – The Bertie County Council on Aging serves individuals who are 60 years of age or older.

The council’s main office is located in Windsor and there are satellite sites in Aulander and Colerain. The satellite sites are open from 9 a.m.- 1 p.m.

Venita Thompson, director of the council, said the goal of the council is to make seniors happy and healthy and to promote their physical and mental well-being.

“A lot of our seniors live alone,” said Thompson. “Here is where they interact; we also promote healthy eating and exercise.”

Services offered by the Council of Aging

The Congregate Nutrition Program provides seniors with a noon meal Mondays- Fridays at three nutrition sites: Windsor, Aulander and Colerain.

The meal is one- third of the daily recommended dietary allowance and seniors are asked to make a voluntary contribution for the meal.

“For some, this is the only nutritional meal they will receive in a day,” said Thompson.

The Home- Delivered Meals Program is a well- balanced noon time meal that is delivered to home- bound seniors.

Volunteers deliver the meals in Windsor and Aulander. In Colerain, family members or friends must pick up the meals at the site and deliver them to the seniors.

“Sometimes the person who delivers the meal is the only face that home-bound seniors will see all day,” said Irma Robbins, aging service coordinator.

Transportation for seniors is also available through Choanoke Public Transportation Authority (CPTA).

This service is available for seniors from all areas of the county on a pre- scheduled basis on Mondays- Fridays.

According to Thompson, some of the areas where seniors are transported are doctor’s appointments, drug stores and the health department. Other places include the nutrition sites, Social Services, the grocery store and post office.

Special medical transportation is provided when needed.

Voluntary contributions are asked to help continue this service.

The In- Home Respite Program relieves caregivers by bringing in certified nursing assistants.

Robbins said this program aids caregivers by providing care 24 hours a week.

“Caregivers need to take care of themselves,” said Robbins.

Contribution per hours of service is asked to help continue this program.

A Family Caregivers Support Group is also available through the MidEast Area Agency on Agency.

Services available at the senior center

The council’s senior center also offers services to seniors.

According to literature given to the Roanoke Chowan News Herald, the center is a place where seniors can come for services and activities that will enhance their dignity, support their independence and encourage their involvement in the community. The center is also a source of information on aging services and activities and provides opportunities for volunteerism.

The center organizes, plans and coordinates services and activities that encourage seniors to experience a sense of achievement and productivity and will give them opportunities for interaction with their peers and community.

Senior’s Health Insurance Information Program (SHIIP) is sponsored by the N.C. Department of Insurance. This program trains seniors to counsel other seniors in their community about Medicare, Medicare supplements and long- term care.

Thompson and Robbins said a typical problem with seniors and health insurance is the Medicare Advantage Plan.

“A lot of the advantage programs do not work in our area and some seniors are being duped into the plan,” said Robbins. “Pitt Memorial, the mother hospital for all of our other hospitals, does not accept Medicare Advantage.”

Thompson added that when the seniors sign up for the plan and find out it will not work in the area, it is too late because they are stuck with a large hospital bill.

Robbins said the council is educating seniors about the different insurance options available to them.

“I don’t care how long I have to sit on the phone; I am going to help,” she said.

“They take advantage of the seniors,” said Thompson. “Some insurance companies do whatever they want to do; we go the extra mile to help seniors.”

The AARP Tax Aide program assists seniors with state and federal income tax returns.

Thompson added that many seniors ask for advice with their stimulus payments.

“Many seniors don’t understand why they haven’t received their payments,” said Thompson. “They don’t know what to ask, so we are their mouthpiece.”

Thompson added that other people will try to take advantage of the senior citizens.

“Advocacy is a big issue for me,” she said. “I will fight to the end.”

Thompson also encourages people to treat seniors well.

“A lot of our seniors live alone and their families act like they don’t even exist,” she said.

“It saddens my heart when people treat their families this way; in my day we respected the elderly and took care of them.”

She added that seniors trust people.

“In their day, they could trust people, but you can’t do that now,” she said. “We try to lead them the right way; we are not going to lead them wrong.”

“You are going to get old one day and need someone to take care of you,” she said. “How you treat people is how you will be treated.”

“A lot of our seniors say they don’t know what they would do without us,” said Thompson.

In addition, the center offers health and wellness classes and arts and crafts.

A yearly craft fair is held where seniors from all over the county are able to display and sell their crafts.

From a medical standpoint, flu shots are arranged for Bertie County seniors through local health agencies and the County Health Department gives periodic blood pressure checks.

A large print library is available for seniors and field trips are available through the center.

Thompson said field trips are important to the seniors.

“Some of them don’t get to go anywhere,” she said. “They don’t get to experience anything and these trips give them the opportunity to get out.”

Robbins said individuals at the Council recently crafted a quilt to make people aware of elder abuse. The quilt was displayed at the N.C. Conference on Aging.

According to Robbins, abuse can happen when seniors are not eating and there is no one to check on them. Abuse also happen when caregivers take advantage of the seniors. Other instances include when someone befriends the senior and wipes out their bank account or when the senior is not taking his medicine properly.

“The seniors aren’t going to say anything because they fear retaliation,” said Robbins. “Cases of elder abuse are underreported; we don’t know how many cases there are.”

In May, the council sponsors an Elder Health Fair. The fair covers health and wellness issues. The event also promotes Senior Games, held in Greenville.

According to Thompson, the Senior Games are like the Olympics. Seniors compete against each other for medals. She added that the seniors from Bertie County won 33 medals at last year’s competition.

The Bertie County Council on Aging serves all Bertie County senior citizens, age 60 or older, and their spouses.

Bertie County is a rural county with a minority senior population of 2,069. The council serves between 400 and 500 seniors and their family caregivers during a year.

According to the United Census, Bertie County is home to 4,107 older adults. More than 31 percent of the county’s seniors live at or below poverty level.

Portions of the services provided by the Bertie County Council on Aging are funded through the Home and Community Care Block Grant. This grant is a combination of state and federal funds.

On the federal level, the funds are appropriated through the Older Americans Act.

At the state level, Older Americans Act funds are combined with state monies and are appropriated to counties through an interstate funding formula, taking into account such factors as total age 60 population, minority age 60 population, number of 60 year- olds who are below poverty and 60 year-olds who are in rural areas

A feature of the Council’s services is the Cost Sharing requirement. Each participant is given information on the cost of each service and is encouraged to make a voluntary contribution toward the cost of the service. The revenue is reinvested to expand the services in Bertie County.

Thompson said some of the county’s seniors aren’t aware of the center because the community is so rural and widespread.

“We thought about sending announcements to each town and letting them distribute them,” she said.

“We are also planning on putting information about the council in the Chamber of Commerce newsletter in order to get the word out to seniors.”