The COVID-19 crisis has amplified the need for the family services agency to focus on seniors | Good for Santa Barbara

[Noozhawk’s note: Third in a series sponsored by the Hutton Parker Foundation. Click here for the first story, and click here for the second.]

One of the first orders of the day when the family service agency opened in 1899 was to provide food to needy families.

More than 120 years later, food insecurity remains a vital issue in Santa Barbara County and one that has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many older members of the community, especially those who live alone, have been among the most affected.

The Family Services Agency is competent to help this population. The non-profit organization offers a number of services for seniors, designed to help seniors aged 60 and over live healthy and meaningful lives.

His abilities include Mental health and caregiver support, elder abuse case managementand one long-term care ombudsman (ASLD) program.

During the pandemic, the agency has stepped up its efforts, teaming up with local nonprofit partners to reach even more senior residents. The FSA led a consortium of 10 agencies who worked together to deliver food, medicine and other basic necessities to people living in aged care homes.

Partner agencies placed door hangers in seniors’ communities, and radio and TV spots told locked-in seniors how to get help. Private funders have supported this vital work, and the FSA reported that 28,687 older people received outreach and support services through the initiative.

“The pandemic has brought to light this often overlooked population in long-term care facilities,” said Marco Quintanar, supervisor of the FSA’s long-term care ombudsman program.

The ombudsman program advocates for older adults in licensed long-term care facilities to ensure they receive the highest quality of care and the best quality of life. Staff and volunteers make unannounced visits at least once a week, to observe and address any concerns.

Family Services Agency Volunteers
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Volunteers from the Family Service Agency help distribute food to seniors in the City of Santa Barbara Housing Authority. (Photo by Family Services Agency)

Yet during the pandemic, even mediators have been denied access. So, like almost everyone else, they turned to Zoom and relied on telephone and telehealth registrations, which cannot adequately replace the value of an in-person connection.

The agency is now back in person to conduct site visits, and perhaps no one is happier than Mike Leu, the longest-serving LTCO volunteer. An aerospace engineer by training and former reserve deputy sheriff, Leu has been with the program for more than 10 years.

He also has a law degree, and he told Noozhawk that the ombudsman volunteer opportunity appealed to him because it was a good match for his skills.

A big part of Leu’s volunteer efforts is talking with people, conducting surveys and solving problems. Many of the cases he sees are family financial abuse.

Last year, the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program served 3,201 residents of assisted living and long-term care facilities with quality of care issues, advance directives care and education on residents’ rights, as well as referrals to partner organizations.

At 75, Leu noted that he is older than some of the people he serves.

“I was looking for something useful to do in my retirement and wanted to help older people because I thought I was going in that direction,” he said.

Leu has formed friendships over the years and shared that 15 of his charges have died from COVID-19.

Family Services Agency Volunteers
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Family Services Agency volunteers stayed in touch with City of Santa Barbara Housing Authority residents during the COVID-19 pandemic, delivering flowers and ensuring residents had access to the food, medicine and other necessities. (Photo by Family Services Agency)

“It was a tough time and especially tough not being able to have that personal touch,” he said.

Quintanar echoed the enormity of the challenges of the past three years.

“We are working to advocate for legislation so this never happens again,” he said. “Residents must not die alone.”

In some cases, when seniors are particularly isolated with no family nearby, the ombudsman is their only friend.

With funding from the California Department of Aging, Quintanar said his agency is having great success offering electronic pets to some residents. E-pets help them form attachment.

Quintanar said the FSA is always looking for volunteers.

“We provide training,” he said. “All you need is a passion for helping others.”

Another big part of the FSA’s work with older people involves therapy and support programs for carers, helping those who are often family members to juggle the demands of work and care for their own families.

The Family Services Agency Caregiver Support Group allows individuals to connect with others in similar situations. The FSA also provides guidance to help caregivers balance multiple pressures while emphasizing the importance of self-care and directing individuals to appropriate community resources to best meet their needs.

For more information about volunteer opportunities as a Long-Term Care Ombudsman, call 805.922.1236 or email [email protected].

In addition to the Family Service Agency, the Senior Outreach & Assistance Consortium which served seniors during COVID-19 included Carpinteria children’s project, Center for Successful Aging, Central Coast Commission for the Elderly, Communicate, Community Partners in Caring, Cuyama Valley Family Resource CenterFSA Small house at the edge of the park, Lompoc Valley Community Health Care Organization, Lompoc Valley Medical Center and Santa Ynez Valley people help people.

Click here for more information about the Family Services Agency. Click here to donate online.

– Ann Pieramici is a contributing writer for Noozhawk. She can be reached at [email protected].

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