Department of Aging Director Mary McNamara outlines services and resources available to Cleveland seniors

Dept of Aging
Saturday, November 17, 2018; Talks in the Hall, Cogswall Hall, 7200 Franklin Boulevard: City of Cleveland Department of Aging Director Mary McNamara talks about services available from her department. The event was co-sponsored by Cogswell Hall and Cleveland Westside Village. (See related article below.)

(December 2018, Plain Press)        At a November 17thTalk in the Hall at Cogswell Hall, Cleveland Department of Aging Executive Director Mary McNamara explained the range of programs, services and resources her department helps link to qualified Cleveland residents. The Talk in the Hall, co-sponsored by Cogswell Hall and the Cleveland Westside Village, offered the opportunity for Cogswell Hall residents and members of Cleveland Westside Village to learn more about resources available for residents facing the challenges of aging in Cleveland’s Westside neighborhoods.

   McNamara, who lives in a house on W. 71stoff of Franklin – not far from Cogswell Hall, said her house was once owned by her aunt and uncle.  She said her aunt and uncle had five sons and her uncle made sure the boys didn’t disturb the peace of residents of Cogswell Hall. McNamara said her uncle made sure the boys walked on the other side of the street when passing Cogswell Hall and warned the five Mulgrew boys saying, “don’t even touch a blade of grass” at Cogswell Hall. McNamara said she recently visited an outdoor party at Cogswell Hall that featured live music out on the lawn with Great Lakes’ beer. She said she sent a photo to her cousins.

   McNamara shared a story on how she became a geriatric social worker.  She said she returned to Cleveland in the year 2000 after working in Kentucky. Her father was sick, and the commute to go visit him was too long. She had an Americorp award and used it to go to graduate school at CWRU’s Mandel School. When it came time to choose a concentration, McNamara said the lines for children, youth and family social work tables were very long, but no one was at the aging table. She said she felt sorry for the guy sitting at the aging table, so she went over there. Prior to talking to him, McNamara said she thought of geriatric social work as working in a nursing home, which didn’t appeal to her. She said she learned that day that only 5% of people over the age of 65 live in nursing homes. 95% live in the community and want to stay there. She said that conversation changed the rest of her career.

   McNamara said she went on to work with homeless senior adults at Fairhill Partners’ Senior Guest House and wrote her graduate thesis on the “Gift and challenge of family care.” McNamara said she became the lead social worker for the Cleveland Department of Aging in 2008 and two years ago became the Director of the Department of Aging.

   Citing some statistics on Cleveland’s population, McNamara said there are 70,000 older adults in Cleveland which represents 17% of the current population of the city. McNamara said current population projections indicate that by the year 2030 there will be more people over age 60 than under age 60. She said this is due to a combination of factors – family sizes are smaller than they used to be, and the baby boomers are aging.

   McNamara said the City of Cleveland is the first city in the state of Ohio to apply to the World Health Organization to be recognized as an Age Friendly City.

   McNamara said the Cleveland Department of Aging shouldn’t be the only place you call for resources. She stressed the importance of using the network of resources available to seniors. She said the State of Ohio has an Office on Aging and each county in Ohio has an Area Agency on Aging. Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging serves the five county Greater Cleveland area. McNamara said Cuyahoga County also has the Cuyahoga County Office of Senior and Adult Services.

   McNamara passed out a booklet published by the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging titled 2018 Greater Cleveland Older Adults…the Resource Guide. She said the book has definitions of terms such as Assisted Living, Geriatric Assessments and definitions of various medical specialists and lists places that offer such services. She also had pamphlets from a number of agencies that serve seniors and individuals with disabilities living in Cleveland. She said all these resources are regularly available at the Department of Aging.

   Director McNamara stressed that the City of Cleveland Department of Aging is just part of a network of services that can help seniors stay in their homes and remain independent. She noted that Senior Centers such as the Hispanic Senior Center on Detroit Avenue and the West Side Community House at W. 93rdand Lorain are part of that aging network. She said the City of Cleveland has 94 Senior Specific housing options. She offered some examples in the neighborhood such as Kirby Manor and Colman Court. She noted some of these buildings have eligibility based on income. 

   Other programs in the network assist residents in signing up for Medicaid and Medicare, or they provide health and wellness services such as diabetes self-management training.

   McNamara sees one role of the Cleveland Department of Aging is to help people to gain access to the network of services available to senior citizens and persons with long term disabilities. She said that part of the job of the thirty people working in the Department of Aging is to “keep people in the community as long as possible.” She said this is what people have said they want.

   The Cleveland Department of Aging, located on the 2ndfloor at 75 Erieview Plaza, is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. The phone number is 216-664-2833.

   McNamara says outreach workers at the Department of Aging respond to the needs for services in four areas: social services, home repair/maintenance, safety and health and wellness.

   To help people stay in their homes, McNamara says the Cleveland Department of Aging offers information and assistance to connect people to a network of providers offering various services to seniors and persons with disabilities. For example, she noted one partner, the Anderson Center of Maximum Accessible Housing of Ohio which helps to show people modifications they can make to their home to help them to age in place.

   Options Counselors at the Department of Aging can help people to explore what their preferences are in case they do need nursing care, assisted living or a continuous care community in the future. Economic Security Counselors can help with home foreclosure, credit card debt and economic case management.

   Benefits Assistance staff members can help do a benefits checkup to help individuals learn what local, state and federal benefits they may qualify to receive and help individuals to apply for those benefits.

   McNamara said seniors can also call United Way at 211 for contact phone numbers for various senior services. She also noted that the Ohio Senior Health Insurance Information Program provides free health information and services for people with Medicare.

   Eviction Prevention services are also provided by the Department of Aging to referrals received from Housing Court. When seniors become homeless, the Senior Guest House is an option to refer seniors for assistance.

   For seniors that are already in a nursing home and would like to return to the community, the Home Choice program at the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging and Linking Employment, Abilities and Potential can provide assistance.

   Senior Transportation Connection (STC) is a nonprofit organization that the Department of Aging contracts with to provide transportation to Cleveland residents 60 years of age or older. McNamara says after residents have signed up for the service with the Department of Aging with a phone call to 664-2833, they can contact Senior Transportation Connection directly to schedule one trip per week in a white, wheel chair accessible van. The cost for the service is $1.25 each way and is available to take individuals to locations 10 miles or less from their houses. McNamara says Cleveland seniors use the service for medical appointments, shopping or visits to the cemetery.

   McNamara said individuals can call their doctor’s office to get an estimate as to how long appointments normally take to give STC an estimated time to pick them up after the appointment is over. She said STC provides person centered, elbow to elbow service. McNamara suggested that seniors looking for a part-time job also consider becoming a driver for STC. She said the organization is always looking for drivers.

   The home repair services of the Department of Aging include connecting seniors to programs such as the federal Housing and Urban Development Department Senior Home Assistance Program and to the services of groups such as Neighborhood Housing Services and Community Housing Solutions. McNamara said most home repair programs have income qualifications. She said Department of Aging staff can help determine what programs residents qualify for and also connect people to resources such as Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau to help them find trustworthy contractors for various home repair jobs.

   The Department of Aging also provides individuals age 60 or older, or individuals age 18-59 with a disability, with services such as grass cutting, snow removal and leaf raking, said McNamara. She noted that the program is limited to 800 people and is on a first come first served basis and gives priority to individuals age 85 or more or those with wheel chair ramps. Applications are available each year in mid-February. McNamara said she would like to see community networks develop in Cleveland that would engage youth in providing snow shoveling services for seniors during heavy snow storms.

   Several services by the Department of Aging have to do with safety. One such service is Cleveland Care Calls which makes automated calls to seniors with safety information.

    Another safety service is the provision of File of Life forms to be placed on the refrigerator in the home to give information to Emergency Medical technicians that are called to your home. The form has space for some basic health information, insurance information, emergency contacts, pet care contacts and even a space to list a medical alert company so the service can be turned off while you are in the hospital. 

   McNamara said she would like to see every Cleveland senior citizen have a File of Life on their refrigerator. She said the information provided to medics when seconds matter can make a difference. “It is hard for medics to go into a house and know nothing about you,” she said. She said copies of the form are available from the Cleveland Department of Aging in Portable Document Format (PDF) in English and Spanish. To receive a copy of the File of Life form send an email to the Department of Aging at aging@city.cleveland.oh.usor call 216-664-2833.

   The Department of Aging also hosts a number of Health and Wellness events such as Senior Day and a Senior Walk where vendors connect with seniors and seniors can connect with each other and do some networking. Some Cleveland recreation centers also offer special classes or programs for seniors. McNamara noted one program which Bike Cleveland held at four different Cleveland recreation centers where it provided examples of age friendly bicycles and tricycles, safety tips for cycling and a share the road refresher course.

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