Elders' day program coming to Berne

BERNE — Everyone feels the frailty brought on by age. But the dependence that comes with frailty doesn’t seem as inevitable to people whose social services are robust.

In the Hilltowns, government officials and not-for-profit organizations have held meetings this year to flesh out ideas on how to stretch their resources and bring services to elderly people who don’t know of them.

Two vehicles in Berne are available for seniors’ shopping trips and medical appointments, a congregate meals site for them has been relocated in the town, and Senior Services of Albany is planning to open its third “adult day program” in September.

Three days a week, the Helderberg Lutheran Evangelical Church in Berne will be open to elderly or handicapped people meeting to share food and conversation. Meals once served at the Hiawatha Grange are planned to start again in a few weeks at the Berne senior center on Route 443, according to Berne Supervisor Kevin Crosier.

The $45 to $49 full-day fee can be paid through long-term insurance, individuals, or Albany County Department for Aging funding for people determined to be eligible through an assessment. It’s meant to get elderly people together and give caregivers a break.

“We would like to have six or seven people to start with,” said Monika Boeckmann, executive director of Senior Services of Albany. “If we’re able to get a consistent membership, then we might be able to go to five days a week.”

Pastor Wendy Cook said the church would accept a desk, a fish tank, a DVD/VCR player, games, arts and crafts, books, bookshelves, and comfortable chairs with arms for the adult day program.

Part of the challenge with growing services for elderly people in the Hilltowns is overcoming skepticism of the new programs in communities that rely heavily on family and neighbors.

When the congregate meals site closed in Westerlo, which was helped with county funds and run by a not-for-profit, a lack of participation was cited.

The senior center in Berne has undergone some renovation and is awaiting a final cleaning and an inspection from the county before the meals begin in a few weeks, according to Crosier.

With just two requests for a recent bi-weekly shopping trip, the 14-passenger bus for residents in Berne and Knox didn’t run. Usually it does, and Crosier says it will run so long as enough people request the bus through the Capital District Transportation Authority for it to make financial sense.

“It’s not like a city, where you hop on a bus and take a transfer and hop off a bus,” said Linda Carman, who writes a column for the Hilltown Seniors for The Enterprise. “They’re not programmed like that,” she said of people in the Hilltowns.

Boeckmann said most seniors take time to warm up to a helping hand, and she’s been told the same by people in the Hilltowns.

“They’re more reserved when it comes to outsiders,” said Boeckmann. “That’s one of the reasons I’m totally committed hiring staff from that area, so they know each other.” The adult day program in Berne will have two trained and paid staff members for every seven people who come, she said.

Senior Services has similar programs already established in Albany and Cohoes.

In 65+ in the United States: 2010, a report released this past June, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that elderly Americans living in nursing homes across the country fell by 20 percent between 2000 and 2010 while the 65 and older age group is working more or getting other kinds of care.

As the baby boomer generation gradually steps into its last decades, the neighbors, friends, and family that drive them to doctors’ appointments, mow their lawns, or share meals with them will be more crucial. The health care industry is bracing for the increase in geriatric care and costs.

The fate of the county-owned nursing home has been one of the largest debates in the legislature in recent years. McCoy’s predecessor, Michael Breslin, had advocated closing the nursing home and spending funds instead on aging-in-place services. Although McCoy had compaigned on a county-run nursing home, upon studying the matter in office, he backed privatization but ultimately compromised with legislators in February with a Limited Development Corporation.

The county has $158,708 in contracts with day-care providers like the one in Berne, according to Mary Rozak, spokeswoman for the county executive’s office.

Accommodating older people where they live has been a part of Albany County’s policy as the elderly population grows. According to the five-year estimate of the U.S. Census Bureau, around 42,900 people out of 304,204 in the county are 65 or older, with 1,666 of them in the Hilltowns.

“Money keeps getting less and less,” Boeckmann said of the county’s Department for Aging. The county is choosing to spend in “those areas that don’t really have access to alternatives.”

“My husband and I, we don’t have any more grocery stores up here,” said Carman. “We have to go to Cobleskill, Schenectady, or Guilderland to shop, and what’s going to happen to us when we can no longer drive?”

She added, “I think people my age are starting to figure that out, to find that out, what’s going to happen to us.”

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