By James Kinneen
Hometown Weekly Reporter
About a year ago, councils on aging were still hosting in-person events to bring seniors together for activities like yoga, line dancing, card games, educational programs and birthday parties. But as was the case with many other professions, once COVID-19 hit the USA, the role of both councils on aging and their employees quickly changed. From having to hold events over the internet to helping seniors get vaccinated, COA employees have remained busy, even while their buildings have closed. The Medfield COA has been no different.
“We switched gears; we started with conference call programs and added our Zoom programs,” Medfield COA Director Roberta Lynch explained, “and all COA staff provided Outreach phone calls residents. Our goals were to check in with as many people as possible, build a relationship and identify any needs through our calls. We offered many outside programs during the spring, summer and fall. We then moved into the winter, where we revved up our online virtual programs, revved up our Facebook page, and then turned to the vaccine rollout.”
Helping seniors get vaccinated has been the Medfield COA’s primary goal since the vaccinations were announced. With many seniors unable to sign themselves up for vaccination appointments or unable to find an open appointment they could go to, COA employees and volunteers have been working to enroll seniors for appointments and to inform them when an appointment becomes available.
“It’s been frustrating for people. Many seniors, especially the 75-and-up group, had difficulty scheduling on the computer. Some weren’t, but we have actually been signing people up for the vaccine as soon as we can get on. The other morning I signed up three people. Yesterday I signed up a few people; it’s a lot about whether or not you can get on the site. And then we have a group of volunteers we assigned seniors to who are also working to sign people up for the vaccine. That’s really our focus right now, getting everybody vaccinated.”
With no town vaccination site, Lynch has been signing people up for the Medfield CVS, Gillette Stadium, and Needham’s Center at the Heights (their senior center). While the COA hasn’t used its vehicle due to COVID restrictions that would severely limit the number of passengers, it has volunteers who are bringing people to appointments, one on one.
Still, when pressed on what the main issue people are struggling with in regard to the website, Lynch said it was just the number of available appointments that are filing up so fast.
“It’s just hard to get on. There’s a long wait sometimes, and it refreshes and refreshes. You can get on; you just have to have patience. A couple days ago, I got on at seven in the morning and called a couple of people I knew were having trouble, and I helped them. A couple of them were savvy enough to be able to do it themselves, so I told them to go on right now, and they were successful.”
When asked if there was anything in this article that could lessen the number of calls she gets, Lynch instead expressed that the COA is fine with the number of calls it's receiving, and would rather people know they are available to help.
“The numbers of calls we’re getting are fine. The COA staff are here to support the senior community in the town of Medfield and if they have to call often to touch base with us - maybe because they’re a little anxious, they haven’t received their vaccine yet or they’re having trouble getting on the site - I want them to call. They can call as many times as they want, because we’re here to support them and to help them.”
Still, the COA was designed to get seniors doing activities together, so with increasing numbers of seniors being vaccinated, Lynch is hoping they will be able to return to in-person activities a few months from now.
“We’re hoping sometime in April we will open our doors for some in-person activities, but that’s to be decided in the next few weeks. I will be speaking with the Town Administrator, Kristine Trierweiler, and the Board of Selectmen to discuss our reopening plan. We will still have to wear masks and follow the social distancing guidelines, but I envision us getting people in this building in April or May.”
And after all that time apart, what will that first event be?
“Maybe a reopening celebration.”