Media Series Designed To Highlight Local Public Health Efforts

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New City, NY, – Rockland County Executive Ed Day and County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert announce the latest update to the #PublicHealthIsHere4U media series, which highlights local COVID-19 public health efforts that are keeping our community safe. The series highlights county employees and volunteers that have come together to help battle this disease through the implementation of public health measures.

Today’s #PublicHealthIsHere4U update features the essential public health role of the county’s Office for the Aging in providing essential services to assist older, homebound residents in need during the COVID-19 crisis.

Tina Cardoza-Izquierdo, Director of Office for the Aging (OFA) in Rockland, has been employed in her role as director for three and a half years and oversees a team of 14 county employees.  Before COVID-19, she was responsible for the OFA’s daily operations, the fiscal management of a 6.4-million-dollar budget, monitoring and evaluation of programs to ensure regulatory compliance, and senior advocacy. The OFA serves clients from the age of 60 and over.  There are approximately 68,000 seniors in Rockland over the age of 60.  Approximately 80% of seniors are over the age of 70 (54,400).

Since March, and with the passing of Matilda’s Law, individuals age 70 and older, those with compromised immune systems, and those with underlying illnesses have been advised to remain at home as they are among the most vulnerable to complications from COVID-19.  With this public health measure in place and to protect 1/5 of county residents, Tina and her staff have shifted job tasks to handle the surge in requests from the county’s older residents.

It’s all hands on deck! Seniors are in desperate need of food and in-home services.  Something as simple as laundering their clothes has become an issue.  I have negotiated new contracts to ensure all their needs are met while being restricted by stay at home orders. Our day-to-day operations now primarily focus on getting food, medication, behavioral support, and any other assistance clients need to remain safe and healthy in their home,” said Tina Cardoza-Izquierdo. 

Due to the overwhelming need and with state approval, OFA’s intake and assessment form has been greatly shortened. Services have been more streamlined; anyone who cannot leave their home and calls the OFA in need of food, home-delivered meals, or requires a home aide can get the assistance they need.

Office for the Aging is able to arrange telehealth services for any behavioral health concerns and virtual recreational activities such as yoga to keep the aging population active and engaged. Staff also provides technical assistance to help residents access these online services.  Case managers are in regular contact with high-need clients providing ‘well checks’ to ensure their needs are being met.

One of OFA’s established and popular food access programs is a home-delivered meals program distributed by Meals on Wheels, Mom’s Meals, and Northern Metropolitan.  This meal-delivery service can accommodate special diets and Kosher meals and can be provided to any Rockland County senior resident who is home due to illness, physical handicap, or advanced age and cannot shop or cook for themselves. “Once COVID-19 began spreading through our community, the demand for home-delivered meals increased.  Since March 13, there were 690 new home-delivered meal clients needing this vital service,” said Tina Cardoza-Izquierdo.

The Shopping for Seniors program was established in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.  It involves a collaboration of community partners which help residents access groceries and other necessities. Shopping for Seniors volunteers make weekly staple food deliveries directly to the homes of residents over 60 or for individuals who are disabled and are unable to leave their homes. Groceries are left on resident’s doorstep by volunteers who wear a mask and observe proper physical distancing guidelines. Recognizing that weekly needs for food can change, clients are expected to call-in weekly to request this service.  The shopping bag of food includes staple items such as eggs, milk, tuna fish, fruit cocktail, pasta, sauce, and other essentials such as a roll of toilet paper.

Shopping for Seniors started through the outpouring of support from over 25 community partners.  The program started with some modest monetary and grocery donations. The demand has skyrocketed, and we currently distribute between 150-175 bags of groceries per week. Each weekly grocery bag costs approximately $20.   Due to the demand,  New York State Office for the Aging (NYSOFA) has included this program as part of its reimbursable programs to the county, saving over $3,000 a week in local taxpayer dollars while ensuring no senior goes hungry,” said Tina Cardoza-Izquierdo.

Residents who are food insecure, are very appreciative of their home-delivered groceries and meals.   Past clients continually express how thankful they were to everyone from the Office for the Aging who took care of them when times became tough. “From my own personal experience delivering food, it is so fulfilling to know you are helping someone. Feeling a client’s gratitude and appreciation is amazing, as they often feel forgotten. Helping residents feel more secure and that someone is caring for them, is really what this is all about for us,” said Tina Cardoza-Izquierdo.

Maria from New City, a client who utilizes the Shopping for Seniors program, shared this sentiment, “I had tried for four days to place an order with different grocery stores, and they were so backed up they weren’t even offering any future delivery dates.  I turned to OFA because I was fearful. You made a real difference in my life by answering my fear that I would never get food delivered from anywhere.  I appreciate knowing OFA staff was there for me and the special things you put into those bags, the crackers, the surprise applesauce, and so much else.  I felt so insecure and was so glad you came. What you delivered, relieved me, and I am grateful.

The Rockland Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) can assist clients in getting their medications from a pharmacy and transport clients to medical appointments. “These are issues we have seen during normal times but have been intensified since the COVID-19 pandemic began. The OFA staff and volunteers are extremely committed to serving the seniors in Rockland County. Our team goes above and beyond to address the client’s needs and has shown great strength and fortitude as essential personnel during this pandemic. I am very proud of them for all their hard work and dedication.  We are taking care of our residents and are the ‘behind the scenes heroes’ during this COVID-19 crisis,” said Tina Cardoza-Izquierdo.

For general information on Office for the Aging programs, including the programs mentioned above,  senior housing lists, discount bus passes, legal referrals, directories, and more, please call 845-364-2110 or visit http://rocklandgov.com/departments/aging/.

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For COVID-19 information or questions, call the Rockland County COVID-19 Hotline at 845-238-1956, Monday through Friday from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm or email COVIDCallCenter@co.rockland.ny.us. For local COVID-19 information and resources, visit the county’s coronavirus (COVID-19) webpage at http://rcklnd.us/covid19 or follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/rockhealth or Twitter at www.twitter.com/rockhealth.

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