Montgomery County has designed a one-year program, using federal funds, to help the elderly in the upper part of the county cope with isolation, one of their major problems.
It includes an outreach program designed to locate elderly persons who are in need of services and increased transportation services. It also promises a major effort to create a multipurpose senior center by January, 1979.
The county is negotiating with architects to find a surplus school for the center which would offer nutrition programs, nursing service, social activities and counseling services. Forest Glen, the only senior citizen center the county now runs, has only recreation programs.
However, bus service for the elderly in the Silver Spring area, in the lower part of the county, is being cut back in areas that have access to the ride-on system, a small bus system that is not exclusively for the elderly. Bus service for the elderly in that area is paid for by the county, and the county Council has reduced the appropriation for it.
According to Lynn Chaitovitz, chief planner for the division, one of the first indications of the severe problems that some of the 70,000 elderly residents of the county face came during the energy crisis of last winter.
Although the county is one of the nations's richest, among the persons who called the division seeking assistance were many who were "living in homes whic were practically shacks in the upcounty with inadequate heat, using kerosene and wood stoves," said Critovitz.
As an example, she told of an elderly diabetic woman who said that after she paid her fuel bill and rent, she had just $9 left tolast through the month.
A recent survey by Westat, Inc., indicated that more than a third of Montgomery County residents over 60 years old have problems they cannot solve by themselves and 2,000 are in immediate need of assistance.
The median annual income of those surveyed was $11,300 with one-fourth reporting incomes higher than $20,000. But almost a third lived on less than $6,000 and a fifth reported incomes of less than $3,000 a year.
The survey also indicated that 3,000 elderly people, mostly the oldest and poorest, have virtually no social contacts and about 15 per cent of the county's elderly residents have no one to reply on if you are ill.
Although Montgomery County has several programs designed to help the elderly such as food programs, tax credits and homemaker services, the survey found that program information is not getting to those who need it the most. It concluded that an informational campaign aimed at the low-income elderly might substantially increase program utilization.
That is the purpose of the outreach program, said Chaitovitz. Under it eight workers, including one who speaks Spanish and one who speaks Vietnamese, will attempt to locate such persons and help them get assistance. Each worker will be assigned an area of the county and will contact social service departments, civic groups and the elderly to find the persons who need assistance. Anyone who knows of persons who could use the help can contact at 279-1487.
Chaitovitzsaid the outreach program is designed to work with the persons contacted for as long as needed. "We don't consider this as a quick knock on the door - 'Hello, if you need anything call me.' There will real attention given to each person as long as it takes them to reach appropriate services," she said.
The survey indicated that transportation is another major problem of the elderly. To help alleviate that, the division plans to increase its bus services to the elderly in the upper county where there are no taxicabs and no other forms of public transportation. Beginning in November, the bus service for the elderly will operate five days a week in the upper county, instead of three.
However, starting in August, the bus for the elderly will no longer serve the Silver Spring areas of 1400 Fenwick Lane, Takoma Tower, Springvale Terrace or any other complex that now has easy access to the ride-on system.
That cut of $15.000, the operating cost of one bus, generated the most protests at the public hearing at which the plan was presented. The hearing was attended by more that 200 people.
Robert Dixon, who lives in an apartment complex that will no longer have bus service, testified that many elderly people need assistance in carrying their packages and climbing the bus steps. He said the drivers of the buses for the elderly now provide those services.
"They can't even carry their packages even if the buses stop in front of their home," he said. "Picture this lady with a cane with a heavy shopping bag full of groceries waiting 20 minutes, walking several blocks to get to a bus stop. Would you like this to be your mother or your grandmother, or your aunt?"
But Jane Stearnes, who said, she lived in upper west Montgomery County, said, "We don't even have cabs in my area or Metro. Some of our people are in their 80's and 90's. They need to go also." Chaitovitz said that unless the County Council appropriates more money to the transportation system there is no way to avoid the cut in service to the lower county.