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COVID-19 town hall meeting targets older adults

May 11, 2020

As COVID-19 continues to alter the daily lives of northeast Georgians, those most at-risk from the disease, people older than 65, seek clarity as information and guidance changes frequently.

To provide clear and concise answers, the University of North Georgia's Center for Healthy Aging will host a virtual town hall meeting at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 19. The university will conduct the hour-long meeting in a question-and-answer format for seniors, their caretakers and other health care professionals. People may participate in the town hall by visiting https://ung.edu/healthy-aging/.

"People need to feel like they are not alone and need to know they aren't the only ones out there with questions," said Dr. Pamela Elfenbein, director of the Center for Healthy Aging. "We are all in this together."

Dr. Chaudron Gille, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, said the Center for Healthy Aging is the ideal agency to coordinate this effort.

"We have the network of partners in government, nonprofits and community organizations to bring together service providers, policy makers and constituents," she said. "And the university has the resources and expertise to offer the town hall forum."

Gille explained UNG's Center for Healthy Aging sponsored an in-person forum on "Disrupting Aging" earlier this year, and it was very successful.

"We hope this virtual town hall will generate a similar level of interest and strengthen communication and partnerships in our community," she said.

Elfenbein proposed the town hall to the Center for Healthy Aging's board of directors after witnessing the impact of a pair of UNG virtual meetings. UNG President Bonita Jacobs has conducted digital sessions for faculty and staff about COVID-19 and its effects on the university.

"It was nice to see Dr. Jacobs and hear her words of encouragement," Elfenbein said. "It made me feel connected."

The professor of sociology and human services at UNG explained many older adults who stay physically and mentally active at senior citizens' centers are prohibited from going to those places in the current climate. Others who receive food and visits from volunteers through nonprofit organizations are sequestered at home. Clients in assisted-living facilities and nursing homes are isolated because visitors are prohibited.

"All of these supportive services are closed currently, and that population is wondering what to do," Elfenbein said. "We will field those questions for those constituents."

A trio of experts will be on hand to provide the answers. They are Abigail Cox, director of the state Division of Aging Services in the Department of Human Services; Pat Freeman, CEO of Legacy Link, Area Agency on Aging; and Pam Clayton, vice president of quality advancement and regulatory affairs for the Georgia Health Care Association.

This virtual town hall is geared toward the aging community, their caretakers and their healthcare workers, Elfenbein said. Some predetermined questions include:

  • What services are still being provided?
  • How have the Area Agencies on Aging across Georgia adapted to serve older adults?
  • How will the services transition from social distancing back to full capacity?
  • What will the new normal look like?
  • What advice and guidelines are you sharing with older adults and their family caregivers?
  • What are the numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths of older adults in Georgia?

Questions can also be submitted from the public in advance or during the event by emailing healthyaging@ung.edu.

Elfenbein said meeting's final five minutes will feature self-care tips.

"I think the public and especially our target audience want to know when they can return to the places the frequented in the past. They also want to know when they can have a social gathering," she said, adding many want to know the answer to the same question. "The meeting will also be open to the public, health care and social service providers, and the UNG community."

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