On the heels of the Borderline shooting, Allison, a Senior Concerns case manager, was knocking on doors of the occupants of the senior low-income housing complex where she works.
She was concerned the residents were isolated in their apartments watching the 24/7 coverage of the massacre, feeling shocked and frightened.
Allison encouraged them to come out of their apartments and share their feelings and concerns with her and with each another. It was one small step in promoting community among the seniors she provides counsel, guidance and resources to on a weekly basis.
But just like that, Allison was gone. She had to rush home because her house was in danger.
Alison, her husband and her infant daughter were evacuated from their home in Oak Park. While concerned for her own family, she was feeling a heavy heart for the seniors she’d left, who would need to cope with the wildfires and possible evacuations without her.
That same day Senior Concerns was notified by Dial-A-Ride that its headquarters was being evacuated and services would stop at 3 p.m. Our staff scrambled to call family members to see if they could pick up their loved ones from the Adult Day Program.
And, not sure they themselves could get home, staff members offered to stay and drive participants home if needed.
Senior Concerns’ facilities would be closed for the next three days due to evacuations. Some attendees of the Adult Day Program for seniors with physical and cognitive impairments were evacuated from their homes with the help of family, neighbors or friends. Others stayed at home with loved ones as they watched coverage of the wildfires.
At least three local assisted living/ memory-care facilities were evacuated, and all residents were taken by bus to a safe location. One group was on a bus for four hours.
As you might imagine, those seniors who could process what was happening were terrified, as we all were. Of those with cognitive impairment, many were agitated, feeding off the alarm and frenzy of the people around them.
Los Robles Regional Medical Center’s East Campus, which provides rehabilitation services and care for many seniors, was evacuated. East Campus is also where Meals on Wheels is produced. Each day the hospital prepares nutritious hot lunches and cold sack dinners for over 100 Thousand Oaks and Newbury Park homebound seniors.
The Senior Concerns staff packs the meals, and volunteer drivers deliver them.
After three days of Los Robles East Campus closure, Senior Concerns Director of Nutrition Lisa Weaver felt strongly that homebound seniors needed meals regardless of the fires or the hospital closure. She contacted clients to see who was at home and wanted meals.
She called upon Senior Concerns’ staff from various departments to help her make scores of lunches, dinners and some extra food for everyone. And she called volunteer drivers, many of whom were willing to come out in the chaos, to deliver meals to the homebound.
Through this process, everyone who was delivered a meal had someone to check on them and someone to talk to during a terrifying time.
As reports started to come in, our care managers learned of seniors who lost their homes in the fires. One such person was Linda, who’d volunteered at the Senior Concerns Thrift Store for years and had a stroke last year. Since then she’s been using a wheelchair and is on oxygen and, since she can no longer cook for herself, has been receiving Meals on Wheels.
Linda’s Thousand Oaks home was the only one on her block destroyed by the fire. Friends and staff are helping her find used furniture and clothing as she moves into an assisted-living facility.
I find that every time I run into friends these past few weeks, the first hour of our conversation turns to recounting our fire fears, our evacuations and where we went and what happened to our homes. It is cathartic to share and validate one another’s experiences and feelings.
Many seniors in our community are without a social network and are dealing with PTSD from the fires and have no one to talk to. We are receiving countless calls for help here at Senior Concerns.
The wildfires have been devastating for many of us, but here at Senior Concerns we feel especially strong about protecting our most vulnerable citizens in a time of crisis.
Let’s not forget our seniors or the organizations that are ready to help them.