As the coronavirus pandemic spreads throughout the U.S., the vulnerable populations have been identified, and one of them is the elderly.
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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says people aged 65 and over are at higher risk, as are those living in a nursing home or in a long-term care facility.
So as these communities isolate themselves, there is an increasing concern for who will feed them.
Meals on Wheels is doing everything it can to continue its operations during this unprecedented time.
“It's sad when our nurses are doing intakes and identify people; the new term or relatively new term of elder orphans [is being used],” said Joe Tornello, CEO of Meals on Wheels Staten Island.
Tornello and his team deliver two meals to over 1,200 people across Staten Island a day. Since the outbreak of COVID-19, a disease caused by the new coronavirus, he’s receiving more referrals.
“Since Monday, over the last few days, we've received 50 referrals, people calling to say that due to the situation, they're asking for home-delivered meals. It's put a challenge on all of our systems here to maintain our food preparation and food production capacity, not only for our existing population, but to be prepared to increase that,” Tornello said.
And there are challenges: More deliveries, fewer food supplies, higher costs to keep food uncontaminated, as well as volunteers who need to work when local and state authorities are urging people to stay home.
“We don't have [the work at home] option,” Tornello said. “Our kitchen staff come in at 5 in the morning, they have to be here to start cooking the food. Our drivers need to be in here by 8 so they can start loading their trucks, preparing their trucks for food. Volunteers come in after that.”
In the meantime, there are new procedures being put in place to safeguard volunteers as well as meal recipients.
“They're going to the door of the recipient, knocking on the door, ringing a bell, then stepping back 6 to 10 feet so that the recipient receives the meal. Then they’re asking the question that we haven't had to ask before in the past: ‘Are you showing any symptoms?’”
The concern as the crisis worsens is that the elderly will suffer from malnutrition in addition to other ailments.
“If we were unable to deliver meals … to people, they're certainly vulnerable for malnutrition,” Tornello said. “For many people, there's no one else who's going to address who's able or equipped to address their nutrition needs. We take that very, very seriously.”