The new director of the Prince George's County Department of Services and Programs for the Aging hopes to expand services for the handicapped elderly and to set up an emergency assistance fund.
Mary E. Galbreath, whose appointment was confirmed by the county council last month, listed those goals as priorities for the department, which was a division of the Department of Human Resources until last June.
"Creation of the aging department represents a strong commitment by the county to honor its seniors' years of contribution through special support and help during their golden years," Galbreath said at her confirmation hearing.
In a recent interview, Galbreath said the overall aim of the department continues to be "helping seniors remain independent and live satisfying and meaningful lives."
Increased emphasis needs to be given, however, to serving the handicapped elderly, she said. One way that can be done is a department plan to expand the visitation program for homebound elderly persons. Another way, she said, is to establish senior centers with special services, including medical services, and special facilities needed by the handicapped. Such a facility will be available when the Frail Senior Center opens in Bowie this month.
Other programs that Galbreath believes will help the elderly avoid for dealy institutionalization are expanded nutrition programs and trasforming activity centers into multipurpose centers where the entire range of elders' needs are met, including health, education, recreation, nutrition, counseling services and physical fitness programs.
Galbreath said she is convinced that many seniors do not know the services and programs available to them. Possibilities for improving ways of telling seniors about such services include a larger circulation of the monthly Senior Citizen and "bring-a-buddy" days for club or center activities, she said.
Although certain immediate needs, such as transportation, have been identified, Galbreath said, the most pressing problem seems to be the need for an emergency assistance fund.
"We may get a call from a desperate senior who, for one reason or another, has used up the monthly budget on the 20th (of the month) and needs funds for food. Or someone may call to ask for help in paying a utility bill so that service is not terminated. Usually, long-term solutions must be found through counseling or referral to social service programs, but this takes time while the need is immediate" she said.
She said the problem was emphasized during the recent holidays when staff members voluntarily donated money to an office fund for small cash gifts to needy seniors. It became clear, Galbreath added, that there are many needy elderly, presenting a major challenge to the department.
Galbreath said she sees a need for expanding services and programs. This can be accomplished in part by seeking additional funding, by better coordination of services and programs and by establishing or strengthening cooperative relationships with other public agencies.
A first step toward improving organization and planning is a staff workshop this month, she said. At the workshop, staff members will explore and devise ways of coordinating services and programs so the programs can be operated at maximum efficiency. Galbreath said she believes it is particularly important that "the now fragmented and uncoordinated projects and their respective staffs be brought together into a functional whole."
Mary Galbreath is a Marylander who has returned home. A former resident of Harford County, she left Maryland for training in administration and in law. Before returning, she served as director of program planning for Suffolk County, N.Y.
The new director said she hopes the controversy surrounding her appointment, which focused on her age - 33 - and the fact that she was coming from outside Maryland, has been laid to rest.
Galbreath said she does not believe her age is a disadvantage, and said she regards her face-to-face relationships with seniors as enjoyable and entirely positive. She also has had experience in working with the elderly in Suffolk County, where she was involved in program planning for the elderly.
The new telephone number for the Department of Services and Programs for the Aging is 350-6666.