Beth Herold is spending a lot of time on the road these days.
With the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic, she's seen the demand for home-delivered meals to senior citizens skyrocket while fears of infection has cut her staff in half.
So the director of the Butler County Area Agency on Aging takes her turn delivering meals along one of six routes in the county.
The novel coronavirus 2019 has forced a lot of changes in the agency's operations. The agency's eight senior centers have been shut down for the duration. At the same time, the demand for home-delivered meals has shot up from 112 to 500 recipients.
Herold says her staff has dropped from 25 to 13 as some employees were furloughed — often self-furloughed — to protect an immune-compromised family member or relative.
So Herold is one of the drivers taking 2.5 to three hours once a week to deliver meals to senior citizens homes.
“We are gloved and masked and we have ordered gowns,” Herold said. “We usually do call when we're approaching to let them know we are coming.”
The meals are placed outside the door and she waits to see that the senior citizen is there to receive the delivery.
The frozen meals, prepared by Nutrition Inc., contain enough food to last five to seven days.
Recently, the meals have been supplemented by donations from the Butler Sharp Shopper Grocery Outlet. The donations contain a half-gallon of milk, a box of cereal, a half-pound of lunchmeat, a half-pound of cheese and a loaf of bread.
The agency also began distributing 20,000 meals donated to it by the National Guard. Each box contains 12 meals and is meant to be used by people in a disaster area that still have electricity.
“It's a strain but a good strain,” said Herold said of the meal deliveries. “They are thankful and appreciative. Who else would take care of them?”
Advocating for seniors
And the food-delivery program isn't the only one of the agency's 18 programs that have seen a rise in activity since the shelter-in-place order went into effect in Pennsylvania.
Herold said the agency's ombudsman program has seen an increase in activity.
The ombudsman program is set up to resolve problems between 40 nursing homes in the county and their residents.
“The residents have anxiety and depression. They sit there and listen to the news all day, and it's really hard on them,” Herold said. “Sometimes the news isn't the happiest.”
“We reach out to the facilities to ease tensions and fears on both sides,” she said.
The agency also calls to check on seniors that had been attending one of its now-closed senior centers.
In addition, she said, the agency's Apprise program helps seniors navigate insurance and Medicare questions.
And its caregiver program which helps seniors with personal care issues in their own homes remains active under pandemic guidelines.
Herold said the agency programs are funded 98 percent by the state with money raised through the Pennsylvania lottery and 2 percent by the county government.
Still, she said, donations, are welcome.