|Council on Aging Key to Williamstown's Response to Pandemic|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff |
01:35AM / Thursday, May 14, 2020
|The Harper Center on Church Street is home to Williamstown's Council on Aging.|
Williamstown Council on Aging Director Brian O'Grady, seen in this file photo, addressed the Select Board on Monday during its virtual meeting.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The COVID-19 pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for most Americans.
At the Williamstown Council on Aging, they had a little recent experience to draw on.
"This is not our first disaster," COA Director Brian O'Grady told the Select Board during Monday's virtual meeting. "We had problems with all the people who lost their homes during [2011's Tropical Storm] Irene. We kind of had a good idea of what we were going to end up having to do.
"The issue was setting up all the things that didn't exist before. On Friday morning, you're running an exercise class. By Monday, you're trying to find food for people. It's been an interesting dynamic."
Town Manager Jason Hoch invited O'Grady to address the board because the latter has been "an invaluable resource," for Town Hall since the advent of the novel coronavirus crisis in March, Hoch said.
"Brian has been doing yeoman's work, generating updates and adding daily insights for us that go up on our website and Facebook page," Hoch said. "He's done a good job keeping track of a variety of resources in town not only for seniors but, of note, for the entire community."
O'Grady said that although some things have changed — like the suspension of in-person programming at the Harper Center — there is a lot of "business as usual" at the COA, where they continue to provide counseling to older residents.
They also have been doing a few new things, like connecting seniors with volunteer grocery shoppers and obtaining and distributing face masks.
O'Grady credited the Mount Greylock Regional School District with coming through and helping distribute food to seniors as part of the "grab and go" lunch program the district created to continue school lunches right after its three school buildings were closed to students in mid-March.
"And we had grants designed to do other things — like an outdoor walking program or a program called 'Aging Mastery,'" O'Grady said. "What we needed to do was redirect those funds to allow us to purchase food for people, to buy supplies like masks.
"We would never have been able to buy food with a state grant except under these circumstances."
As for residents' emotional needs, O'Grady said the COA is making calls daily to check in with residents, and his grief counselor is available to talk to anyone who needs that service.
"I don't think there's anything we can't do short of physically going over and holding their hand," O'Grady said.
O'Grady told the board that he has been asked to serve on a statewide committee of COA directors to provide recommendations about how to open senior centers under the governor's plan for generally reopening the economy.
As for his agency's internal operations, O'Grady took steps like regularly having the town's COA van sterilized. And that van operates a lot differently than it did two months ago.
"No more than two [passengers] at a time, and we try to keep it to one," O'Grady said. "We've eliminated a lot of the things people like to do. No more trips to the hairdresser. Now, it's all life support activities — medical transport and grocery shopping. We're able to schedule people where one sits in the front, and the other person sits in the back, and everyone wears a mask."
O'Grady said he has supplied reusable masks to everyone at the Meadowvale Apartments, and he is turning his attention to Proprietor's Field and Highland Woods apartments next.
Select Board member Hugh Daley asked O'Grady how many more masks his department needs.
"How many people live in town?" O'Grady replied. "The more the merrier. … If someone needs one, let us know. Don't stay in your house, get out and walk around. After [Tuesday], it's going to be really nice. Get out of your house and go for a walk."
O'Grady said that from his vantage point, Williamstown residents already are following that advice.
"I can tell you that people are not necessarily staying in their homes," he said. "They're wearing masks, they're socially distancing. But they're out there. A majority of people are continuing to do their own thing — with a mask on."