Officials draft rules to open senior center

Town officials are looking to bring programming back to the Town of Coxsackie Senior Center to reduce social isolation since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. File photo

COXSACKIE — Three of the five senior centers in Greene County are reopening to in-person dining Aug. 2, but the Coxsackie Senior Center is not one of them.

So officials are looking to meet the social needs of area seniors in other ways.

In-person dining at all senior centers run by the county was suspended in mid-March of 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and since that time only home-delivered meals have been provided.

The three “cooking sites” — in Athens, Acra and Jewett — will reopen for in-person meals Aug. 2, but the Coxsackie and Catskill centers will remain closed due to staffing shortages, Therese McGee Ward, executive director of the Greene County Department of Human Services, said Tuesday.

The town of Coxsackie owns the senior center building so while meals will not be served there at this time, the town is looking to open the building and perhaps make senior programming available, Town Supervisor Rick Hanse said at the town board meeting Tuesday.

The Coxsackie Senior Club held its first meeting Monday at the Coxsackie Senior Center, 127 Mansion St. With capacity limits due to COVID-19, a maximum of 77 people are allowed inside the building and there were 44 members in attendance, Hanse said.

The town is working on coming up with a set of regulations for use of the senior center building so the club can resume its meetings and give seniors a social outlet, Hanse said.

“In consultation with Dr. [Stephen] Hassett and Tal [Rappleyea], our attorney for the town, I put together some guidelines for use of the senior building,” Hanse said. “The senior club met yesterday for the first time in over a year and they did meet under those rules. But since I put out those rules, the governor has relaxed his rules.”

Hanse will work with Hassett and Rappleyea to come up with new guidelines as the senior club looks to resume its activities.

“March 2, 2020, was the last time the club met,” said Town Councilwoman Linda Wilkinson, who is also an officer in the senior club. “The club is thinking about starting to meet again.”

With in-person meals not an option at this point, providing a social outlet for seniors who have been on lockdown for more than a year is vital, Hanse said.

“It is such an important service,” he said. “It’s not just that people need food. The more important service they provide is the social activities. So many seniors have sat in their houses for more than a year.”

The isolation has been difficult for some people, he added.

“I spoke to people who hadn’t been out in a year and the lack of socialization — they live alone — is really, really hard,” Hanse said.

Nadine Erceg-Myrdycz, chief of the Town of Coxsackie Ambulance, suggested having volunteers come in to offer classes and other programming.

“Since programs were volunteer-based, maybe people would be willing to write letters to the YMCA or other gyms because maybe their instructors would be willing to come in and volunteer to teach classes,” she said. “Everybody knows the impact on mental health that COVID has caused.”

The pandemic has led to issues for many people, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Public health actions, such as social distancing, are necessary to reduce the spread of COVID-19, but they can make us feel isolated and lonely and can increase stress and anxiety,” according to the CDC website.

Wilkinson confirmed several seniors she has spoken with have said the social isolation has been difficult.

“I ran into a few people when I was out grocery shopping and I felt sorry for some of the widowed older people because they really live all alone and have been alone for more than a year,” Wilkinson said. “People really want to get out and get back to living.”

Club leadership asked members at the meeting if they were interested in going on bus trips, a favorite activity before COVID hit.

“They had 44 members there and I’m told most of the hands went up, saying they did,” said Wilkinson, who did not attend the meeting.

Trying to book a bus trip is another challenge, she added, because many vendors they have used in the past for lunches and entertainment are not yet up and running.

“Unfortunately, we haven’t heard back from the places where we used to go for lunches and shows — I got only one in the mail and we are going to check on it,” she said.

The senior center is hoping to resume its meetings twice a month.

“We are hoping to get back to a regular schedule,” Wilkinson said. “Getting people out of the house, at this point, would be good for their mental health.”

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