Council on Aging adapts meal programs to meet changing needs of seniors and families

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Meals on Wheels

Council on Aging is making changes with its nutrition programs to better meet the needs of seniors and their families in our service area.

The changes, in part, are the result of input COA received through its community needs assessment in 2018. Through the assessment, COA heard that more support was needed for older adults who have been impacted by the state’s opioid crisis – specifically, support for grandparents who are raising grandchildren. COA staff were also seeing the need first hand.

“Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more common for our clients to be the primary caregiver for one or more of their grandchildren,” said Ken Wilson, vice president of program operations at Council on Aging. “It’s difficult to image one of our homebound seniors – who need help with things like housekeeping, personal care and transportation – being responsible for a child, but that’s the reality these days and we wanted to find a way to support them.”

Wilson approached the Ohio Department of Aging with the idea of using funds from the National Family Caregiver Support Program (Title III-E) to provide what he calls “kinship” meals – meals for children who are living with seniors who receive federally-qualified home-delivered meals.

After consulting with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Community Living, the state approved Wilson’s request, touting it as a model for other Area Agencies on Aging at the state’s fall advocacy conference.

This means Council on Aging can now provide meals to children age 18 and under who reside full time with a Council on Aging client who is eligible for or already receiving home-delivered meals. The senior must meet the eligibility requirements of the federal home-delivered meals program in order for the child to receive a meal.

“Yay, my meals are here! I'm so excited to have more of my meals and the chocolate milk," is the excited greeting Debbie, a meals driver from the North College Hill Senior Center, receives when she delivers a kinship meal at the home of a home-delivered meals client. She said the senior adult and the child are both very happy with the additional meal.

“These meals will add another layer of security for seniors and the children in their care,” Wilson said. “They will improve the whole family’s quality of life.”

Council on Aging is also working to ensure that home-delivered meals meet the nutritional and special dietary needs of the seniors who rely on them. Since Nov. 1, 2019, service providers that have contracts with Council on Aging to provide home-delivered meals have expanded options for certain types of therapeutic meals to clients who have a medically-documented need. Therapeutic meals are special meals that meet the nutritional or dietary needs of clients with certain medical conditions.

When Council on Aging sought bids from qualified providers for the home-delivered meal service in the Elderly Services Program in 2019, Jennifer Lake, COA’s nutrition business partner and a registered dietician, worked to make sure the special meals were part of the required service specifications.

“Nutrition is an important part of aging – and staying healthy,” Lake said. “With these changes, we can now provide meals that are appropriate for clients with a variety of medical issues ranging from diabetes to lactose intolerance.”

Clients can now receive the following types of meals: diabetic, cardiac, renal, lactose free, gluten free, dysphagia and mechanically-altered meals (most of these meals require a physician’s order). The meals are also available to children who receive a kinship meal.

In 2019, Council on Aging delivered more than 1.3 million meals to more than 7,000 seniors in southwestern Ohio.