Opinion: San Diego’s Vulnerable Older Adults Still Need Our Protection in 2022 – Times of San Diego

Serving meals to seniors during the beginning of the Omicron surge. Courtesy Serving Seniors

Few groups have felt the impact of changes caused by the coronavirus pandemic more acutely than San Diego’s low-income and homeless older adults.

One year ago, we felt hopeful with a vaccine on the horizon that we would return to normal service delivery well before the end of 2021. But by September, the Delta variant arrived, and a booster shot became a necessary element in being “fully vaccinated.” Still, our team at Serving Seniors remained determined to deliver services in as close a capacity to “normal” as possible. 

Now, with the current omicron COVID-19 surge, Serving Seniors is implementing additional protocols for clients, staff, and volunteers to ensure the health and safety of our San Diego community remains our utmost priority throughout the new year and beyond.

We’re maintaining strict alignment with the Centers for Disease Control and San Diego County guidelines and will continue to monitor the status of the pandemic. We have preparations in place to adjust as needed.

We are on track to serve 1.5 million meals this year. Most are being delivered to our clients’ homes and as to-go meals from our centers. We will continue our full services onsite with additional COVID-19 safety protocols. Our in-person congregate dining will continue at our facilities at 25% capacity with heightened social distancing by spacing out chairs and tables.

Just as importantly, our social activities will continue, although also operating at 25% capacity with social distancing in place. Thanks to San Diego’s mild winter weather, we’re able to move some activities into outdoor spaces at our facilities.

Our staff has been busy making sure assistance is still available. We have converted an outdoor space at our Serving Seniors Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center and put it to use. This allows seniors to continue in-person meetings with our team in a safe environment. Services include assistance with housing, access to nurses, and personalized case management to meet their individual needs.

Working with our community partners, we’re continuing to offer COVID-19 booster clinics to ensure clients remain healthy, safe, and have access to vaccinations at Serving Seniors facilities. All Serving Seniors staff members and volunteers are required to wear KN95/N95 masks. Surgical masks are required to be worn by all clients and guests. KN95s are available upon request.

Fortunately, there’s a lot to look forward to in 2022. Two affordable housing projects for older adults are making progress. Construction is currently underway for our new community in City Heights at Fairmount Avenue and El Cajon Boulevard. The residence includes 195 units for seniors and low-income families. We’re on track to open this summer.

Both the city and county of San Diego have given approvals for our planned 162-unit complex in Clairemont at Genesee Avenue and Mount Etna. We hope to celebrate groundbreaking in 2023. Affordable housing is vital to achieving a lasting solution to older adult homelessness.

I delivered a service update to our clients last week via video. You can see it here.

From providing meals to combatting the effects of social isolation, our mission to help seniors in poverty live healthy and fulfilling lives remains our core focus. In my role as CEO of Serving Seniors, we’ve worked to correct these disparities for 50 years.

Maintaining our critical services, even when we had to temporarily close our network of senior centers during the pandemic, presented the greatest challenge in our history. Our team overcame every obstacle, and even upgraded our services over pre-pandemic levels.

Now, with the pandemic grinding on far longer than we hoped, we’ve adjusted to this version of “normal.” We continue working to find new ways to stay connected and continue delivering our vital services.

Whether it was the original strain, Delta, or Omicron, older adults remain the most vulnerable population when it comes to COVID-19. More than 80% of deaths have occurred in seniors 65 and older.

We understand the fatigue everyone is feeling, but we cannot let down our guard now. We must hold fast to prevent any renewed grip on our older population to prevent serious illness or deaths.

Serving Seniors sees the immense value of our facilities remaining open, providing meals, healthcare, social services, online access, and more as a vital lifeline to all vulnerable older adults in San Diego. We cannot afford to shut down again — and with the availability of effective vaccines and our determination, there is no need for it to happen.

Paul Downey is CEO of Serving Seniors, a San Diego-based nonprofit that helps seniors in poverty live healthy and fulfilling lives. 

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