By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Northborough – Liz Tretiak and her team at the Northborough Senior Center are worried about community and connection amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Serving a “high risk” age group, she has to keep her community physically safe. A mental health professional herself, though, she’s also worried about the scars these months of isolation could leave.
“I’m just trying to imagine, moving forward, what the long term effects are going to be,” she said.
When the pandemic hit in mid-March, Senior Center staff obtained a list of 3,000 Northborough residents over the age of 65.
They called each resident, leaving messages, asking questions, and just generally checking in.
“Who needed food?” they asked. “Did anyone need help getting prescriptions filled?” “Did everyone have people taking care of them when need be?”
“We put this tremendous effort to reach every single person that we could,” Tretiak said, noting that colleague and Outreach Coordinator Jocelyn Ehrhardt ended up making roughly 800 calls on her own during that initial effort.
Staff got help in this mammoth task from an emergency shuffling of personnel between town departments.
Their own duties heavily scaled back due to the pandemic, the Recreation Department, for one, had employees help work through the Senior Center’s call list.
Others simply volunteered.
“It was incredible,” Tretiak said. “…We had so many people reaching out to us here to offer their assistance. It seemed at times that most of the phone calls we were getting were people offering to volunteer.”
Since that first outreach effort, staff have dug back into their typical schedules of programming. Still closed due to the pandemic, they’re looking to implement a philosophy of a “senior center without walls.”
Staff regularly discuss seniors’ needs with the local food pantry. And they’ve assembled an outreach guide detailing everything from tax policy support, to resources for addiction and substance use.
Tretiak says 15 of her office’s core programs now run via Zoom, telephone conference calls, or cable syndication.
That last part shows, as a calendar for the Senior Center, available on the Northborough town website, currently sits as one of the only such calendars filled with events.
“Having to really pivot and try to rework the way we do things has been a challenge,” Tretiak said. “But we’re well suited to that right now.”
Still, it is not the same. Thus, Tretiak’s concerns persist.
New to Northborough as of April, she previously worked at the Littleton Senior Center for two years. Before that, she spent a decade as a part of the Baypath Elder Services system. She sees the value of community events as they often represent rare social connection for aging residents.
Without those in person events, Tretiak knows loneliness has and will continue to be a severe problem.
The solution to this, though imperfect, Tretiak says, is simple. As her staff hit the phone banks in March, it may be time to do the same this fall.
“I’d like to see where the health data is going but I think we’re going to need to ramp up the outreach again to check up on people’s mental health,” she said.
Tretiak encourages any seniors in Northborough to contact the Senior Center for more information on ongoing programming, or, even for support and social connection during the ongoing coronavirus crisis. For more information call
508-393-5035 or visit at www.town.northborough.ma.us/senior-center.