Mae Carpenter
Commissioner, Westchester County Department of Senior Programs and Services
Monday, April 6, 2020
Section: COVID-19




n4a has interviewed several AAA directors from the hardest-hit areas of the country to learn how they prepared for and are addressing COVID-19 outbreaks in their communities. The below interview is with Mae Carpenter, Commissioner of Westchester County’s Department of Senior Programs and Services in New York. As part of New York state and because it is in close proximity to New York City, Mae’s agency has, unfortunately, seen a large number of coronavirus cases. Today we’ll talk with Mae to learn how she and her agency is handling the crisis.
What advice do you have for peers in states with a limited number of COVID-19 cases?
  • Develop careful plans for communicating with older adults. As AAAs communicate with older adults about changes to programs, include their family members and caregivers. Provide information in writing and direct the community to any televised press conferences that will provide information about COVID-19 and its impact on the community.
  • Get as much information as you can. Mae says it is vitally important for everyone—AAA staff, older adults and others—to get as much information as you can from trusted sources. 
What services are your AAA is currently providing and what else you are doing to respond to this massive public health threat?
As have AAAs in other states, Mae reports that her agency has closed all 27 of congregate meal locations. To ensure the older adults who participated in the congregate meal program continue to receive meals, the agency’s home-delivered meals program has expanded to deliver 4,000 meals and 12,000 pounds of food per day, an increase from the 1,600 meals it had delivered before the COVID-19 crisis. This program is called “Knock, Drop and Call” and requires people delivering meals to give older adults a call once the meals have been left on their doorsteps. In addition, Mae’s agency is finding ways to deliver meals to older adults living in housing developments and public housing.
 
Some of the services that Mae’s agency provides have seen a drop in the number of clients; these include personal care services and medical transportation. Mae said that this is the result of the large number of people in Westchester County who have contracted COVID-19. The county of just under one million people has 9,967 cases of COVID-19. Mae also noted that her agency is seeing an increase in the number of calls it receives as older adults receiving in-home and personal care services are concerned about whether the person coming into their homes might have COVID-19. Mae notes that, now that COVID-19 tests are more widely available, this has become less of a concern.
 
Addressing social isolation
To address social isolation resulting from stay-at-home orders and social distancing, Mae’s AAA has reshaped two of its programs. The agency has created a new version of its Telehealth Intervention Program for Seniors (TIPS). Called TIPS in Touch, Colette Phipps, Director of the agency’s Livable Communities program, described that the program involves volunteer students who call older adults who have high health risks to ask them five questions that can predict whether they will require hospitalization. Older adults whose responses may indicate additional need will receive a follow-up phone call from a telehealth nurse. Colette reports that older adults participating in the program have reacted positively.
 
Another of the agency’s programs, the Livable Communities Caregiver Coaching Program has transformed into the Livable Communities Caregiver Coaching PLUS Program. The original program trains volunteers to serve as caregiver coaches. Because the program relied on the telephone already, it has been easily updated to include information about COVID-19 and tips on social isolation and loneliness. The program is now training individuals to serve as caregiver coaches in the program. 
 
With the intensity of the situation in New York state right now, and state leaders forecasting several weeks more to go before the possible peak, what are you doing to pace yourself and your agency staff?
To address stress being felt by all levels of her staff, I&R call center staff now rotate which staff person is answering calls. Mae herself has had to adjust how she works—no more late-night emails or phone calls to staff who will answer her 3:30 AM calls because they have forwarded their office phone lines to their homes due to telework! To help reduce stress, Mae is reminding her staff to exercise, eat well, rest and take breaks. Mae’s team is also making sure to check in with each other on a regular basis. This helps staff who no longer are able to have “water cooler” conversations continue to feel connected to one another. Mae says this is crucially important as her staff and volunteers are vital to the services her agency provides.
 
Mae’s final word of advice
Read everything you can. Learn as much as you can about COVID-19 and how it is affecting communities in other areas. This will help your agency learn what it may be facing as COVID-19 spreads around the country. Be prepared. Get supplies and continuity plans in place for when the disease arrives in your community.