Kathy Longan bids farewell to Meals on Wheels volunteer Susan Myers. Longan, like many of the program’s recipients, is mostly housebound. Isolation is major issues facing Island County seniors, according to staff from Island Senior Resources. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group

Kathy Longan bids farewell to Meals on Wheels volunteer Susan Myers. Longan, like many of the program’s recipients, is mostly housebound. Isolation is major issues facing Island County seniors, according to staff from Island Senior Resources. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News Group

Island seniors face isolation

Most Meals on Wheels recipients have similar responses when asked about the program — the food is good and the company is pleasant.

“This is very important to me,” said Kathy Longan.

She sat in a wheelchair in her North Whidbey home, where she lives alone and, said it’s nice when the volunteers deliver the meals because she has “somebody to say hi to.”

She’s not the only one who feels this way.

Last week, leaders from Island Senior Resources and the Northwest Regional Council discussed senior needs and gaps in services with Island County commissioners and the mayors of Oak Harbor, Coupeville and Langley.

Island Senior Resources gathered data over the course of 2018 and evaluated its procedures and services to help develop a strategic plan for the organization. One theme kept coming up in the hundreds of interviews and more than 40 focus groups — isolation and lack of socialization are huge problems faced by this community.

Limited mobility, lack of access to transportation and rural location can severely inhibit people’s access to other people. Studies have linked loneliness to poor mental and physical health, and Island Senior Resources Executive Director Cheryn Weiser said it will be more of a focus in programming.

Angus McMillan Jr. only uses Meals on Wheels when his son is away for work. He said he’s lucky enough to have children who visit often, but when they aren’t around he appreciates the visit from volunteers in the program.

“It really picks you up,” he said.

Behind basic needs — such as affordable housing, financial assistance and food — socialization was listed as the most important resource, according to Chasity Smith, director of aging and disability resources at the organization.

As the Baby Boomers age and longevity increases, there are a number of barriers to serving these people.

“The sex, drugs and rock ‘n rock generation does not show up at the senior center,” said Dan Murphy, executive director of Northwest Regional Council.

The council distributes much of the funding used by Island Senior Resources.

Murphy said funding for senior-specific services likely won’t increase in the coming years.

Nearly 26 percent of Island County residents are 65 years or older, yet most funding for programs is based on total population and not senior population, Weiser said. The organization is also facing declining volunteerism.

The number of volunteers decreased 14 percent over the last year and 29 percent over the last seven years, Weiser said.

A lack of affordable housing and shortage of caregivers are also major issues faced by the aging population.

The nonprofit suggested more resources such as a home share program, volunteer visits and volunteer care are needed.

Smith said the organization is also in the process of developing outcome measures to help focus spending on where it’s making the biggest difference.

For now, a brief visit three days a week when their meals are delivered is all many isolated seniors are getting.

Monday afternoon Longan talked to volunteer Susan Myers about her past education, how the program’s meatloaf tastes just like her mother’s and her plans to have company soon. Longan even gave Myers a chocolate treat for Easter.

“You know the housebound people, don’t you,” she said to Myers as the volunteer left to continue her deliveries. “They want to visit your toes off.”

Kathy Longan gives an Easter treat to Meals on Wheels volunteer Susan Myers. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

Kathy Longan gives an Easter treat to Meals on Wheels volunteer Susan Myers. Photo by Laura Guido/Whidbey News-Times

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