Meals on Wheels and medical home-health services for people across central Vermont will continue, despite concerns about the coronavirus pandemic.

Officials at Central Vermont Council on Aging said every effort would be made to continue meal services, despite the closure of the 14 senior centers in central Vermont that prepare meals and deliver them using volunteers.

CVCOA and senior centers serve more than 200,000 meals a year and distribute to more than 1,700 seniors.

“Our understanding is that senior centers are closed for congregate meals and classes but that meals on wheels and meals that can be picked up at the senior center are available,” said Beth Stern, executive director of CVCOA. “Every region does it a little differently.

“In central Vermont, the meals programs are done via the senior centers and meals programs, and I’ve not heard that any of them are shutting down,” she added.

Stern said efforts were being made to also expand eligibility of Meals on Wheels for people unable to attend meal services at senior centers or pick up bagged meals.

“We’re looking at that with the state,” Stern said.

Stern said there were also discussions about problems with maintaining the services of volunteer drivers, the need for more drivers and the hope of expanding delivery services.

“Many of the sites use volunteer drivers to deliver the meals, so there’s a concern if we lose volunteer drivers or they’re not able to deliver as many meals,” Stern said. “There’s concern if cooks can’t get to the meal sites. A lot of the cooks that we have are older people themselves, so that’s a concern.

“If there are increased restrictions on moving around in our communities, then we may have to rethink this,” she continued. “So, there are many, many concerns.

“Even, how do you get the meals into homes? We don’t really want to be going into people’s homes. So, can somebody get to the door? Can you leave it on the doorstep, because we’re not supposed to leave food outside? All of those things are being discussed but there are no easy answers,” she added.

Stern said that area agencies on aging around the state have suspended home visits and walk-in visits from clients to their offices.

“Some people are working from offices and some people are working remotely,” Stern said. “Our staff are calling clients and communicating with them in different ways, but we’re not doing any in-home visits, we’re not doing classes, we’re not doing any Medicare classes, we’re not doing any caregiver support groups.

“We’re working to find other ways to do these services that don’t involve in-person contact,” she added.

At Central Vermont Home Health and Hospice, officials said they had also canceled visits to its facility in Berlin and classes for clients.

“The health and safety of our patients and our staff is our top priority,” said Emily McKenna, director of marketing and communications. “We have had to discontinue only a few services — our public foot-care clinics, all volunteers, including people who come into the office to help and our hospice volunteers, all of that has been discontinued.

“Interestingly, we found a way to use technology to virtually hold our free grief support groups, and we did the first one of those (Wednesday) and will likely continue with that, trying to keep people connected through phone and video visits for grief support groups,” she added.

McKenna said CVHHH would continue home-health visits.

“In terms of our home health and hospice services, we haven’t discontinued any services and it’s our intention to continue to provide care and see people in their homes,” she said. “Needless to say, by going out to people’s homes, we’re providing really essential services, especially to those high-risk individuals, and reducing the need that someone might go into the hospital or need to go to the emergency department.

“So, we’re kind of all-hands-on-deck to try to make sure that we can continue to provide those services. We’re constantly reviewing our infection control protocols and we have an internal task force that’s meeting multiple times a day, touching base, to try and manage our response,” she said.

McKenna said CVHHH was working closely with the Visiting Nurse Association, the organization that oversees home-health visits statewide, and has been in contact with the Vermont Department of Health and Central Vermont Medical Center.

For more information about Meals on Wheels and meal services in central Vermont, contact CVCOA at 479-0531 or visit www.cvcoa.org

For more information about CVHHH and its hospice, grief and home-health services, call 223-1878 or visit www.cvhhh.org

stephen.mills @timesargus.com

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