It is certainly news to no one that autumn is here and winter just around the corner. Nor, regrettably, is it news that the death toll from the coronavirus continues to mount and that the majority of states have reported upticks in their number of cases in recent weeks. The media remind us of these facts constantly, even as they warn that the surge in cases is likely to intensify in colder months. We hear the word pandemic with a frequency we could not have imagined…because none of us have ever experienced one. That too is probably the reason that we, as individual organizations, states and even as a nation, were not adequately equipped to deal with it. Or put another way, none were prepared for such an emergency – despite the fact that most entities had emergency preparedness plans.
First, we want to commend State Units on Aging, Area Agencies on Aging and local senior centers and home-delivered meal programs for their dedication and creativity in responding to this crisis for which there was no established “play book.” They are continuing to do so on a daily basis, at the same time that they and we at NFESH are together looking ahead to future emergencies. Specifically we are jointly dedicating time and energy to helping create a blueprint designed to equip senior centers in rural areas better respond to the next emergency.
Last month the Administration on Aging (AoA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded a three-year Innovations Grant, entitled “Food for Thought: Equipping Senior Centers for the Next Emergency,” to the Kentucky Department of Aging and Independent Living. NFESH is proud to have been asked to serve as a subcontractor on this project, together with the Division of Aging of the Georgia Department of Human Services, the Kentucky Association of Area Agencies on Aging, and the Human Development Institute of the University of Kentucky. Our efforts under this project will concentrate on: identifying the unique needs that senior centers located in rural areas face as they work to deliver vital services to clients and other elders during emergencies; and, based on these needs, developing a model Emergency Preparedness Plan to help them respond most effectively.
The SUAs in Kentucky and Georgia and the senior centers they oversee continue to be committed to addressing the immediate needs of seniors. During this time NFESH will be focused on working with them to identify lessons that are being learned in real time as those senior centers, together with other entities involved in providing vital services to our nation’s older citizens, have been put to a test. That test is unprecedented in our lifetimes — for that is what this pandemic is. We anticipate that our findings will demonstrate areas both of success and of failure; and both cases will contribute to helping us understand how to “build a better mousetrap,” to borrow a familiar expression, for entities in the aging network that operate in rural areas to use when emergencies arise.
COVID has taught us many lessons. Emergencies, by their very nature, come with little or no warning. We know this because most of us have experienced and responded to emergency situations in the past. But there are other times, such as today, when new emergencies like a pandemic present novel and untested challenges. In all cases – whether an emergency is local or global, familiar or unprecedented, a weather event, a natural disaster, or a health outbreak – it is essential to have a plan in place in advance in order to deal with it most effectively and efficiently. Because lives can depend on it.
NFESH is honored to have been invited by the State of Kentucky to serve as part of an outstanding team of state and local organizations — which continue to toil tirelessly today to perform their essential work of addressing current needs of seniors in the context of a pandemic –to look ahead. Our joint vision and our collective work over the next three years will be to develop tools and provide guidance for front line rural organizations to rely on as they face and respond to those inevitable emergency situations in the future, whenever, wherever and however they occur. Because lives will depend on it.