With about 750,000 residents, Seattle, Washington, is the largest city in Washington state and makes up almost half the population of King County. In February, the Seattle area became the first epicenter of COVID-19 cases in the United States.
The city joined the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities in 2016. The region’s age-friendly effort is referred to as Age-Friendly Seattle.
“Food access is one of the most pressing concerns we hear from the community,” notes Cathy Knight, Director of Aging and Disability Services, City of Seattle. So in isolation, “particularly for older people who were already at risk for low social interactions before the pandemic.” Another challenge that has been cited is older adults’ need for up-to-date information at a time when our understanding and guidelines about the virus are evolving.
The state/county agency Aging and Disability Services (ADS) and other groups such as Meals on Wheels and the Chicken Soup Brigade already offered a strong food network going back before the pandemic, providing meals to more than 15,000 older residents.
With the onset of COVID-19, most of the 56 congregant meal providers were able to retool their programs to deliver sack lunches and grocery boxes. Federal stimulus spending made it possible to extend these programs’ reach. ADS is working closely with other city departments to coordinate food policy. One result of this was that food access for older people was added to Seattle’s Food Resource Interactive Map, which all residents can utilize to seek food support.
“Virtual events and video recordings have become a powerful tool for reaching isolated people and their families, both to share information and connect socially,” Knight says. The videos can be found on the Aging King County YouTube channel, with captions in English and six other languages. The monthly online Age Friendly Seattle Coffee Hour also offers ideas, programs, and topics of interest for older residents.
The Results, Thus Far
To better understand the situation on-the-ground, ADS case managers completed more than 14,000 calls in April to identify which clients were at greatest risk and provide in-home care or home-delivered meals for them. “Those who didn’t have food or other basic needs were connected to services and many older adults needed reassurances and more information about COVID-19,” Knight says.
“We’ve had remarkably few clients who receive long-term services contract COVID-19,” Knight reports. “Because our services helped people remain at home, where there is less exposure.” She also notes that they know they are “making a difference when our information and referral call center — Community Living Connections — and network of community partners report an increase in calls.”
- Seattle Human Services Department
- Seattle and King County Departments of Public Health
- Dozens of community-based organizations that Aging and Disability Services of Seattle/King County contracts with (including many that are culturally- or disability-specific) to provide services
Reporting, writing and editing by AARP (Shoshana Preuss, Melissa Stanton, Jay Walljasper, Mike Watson)
This story is being shared through the AARP-NLC COVID-19 Older Adult Response Initiative. Share your COVID-19 Response focused on older adults with AARP and NLC here
A full-length interview is available on AARP.org/Livable at this link.