For decades, Council on Aging (COA) has been southwestern Ohio’s “front door” for information related to aging and aging services. Its Aging and Disability Resource Center (ADRC) is staffed by expert specialists who respond to more than 50,000 inquiries each year – mostly by phone or electronically.
When Hamilton County announced the opportunity for partnerships on its new 513Relief Bus, COA responded and was selected. When COA first boarded the bus in early 2023, it opened a new channel for its specialists to interface with those in need of aging-related information and services: in person, and in tandem with other area social-service organizations.
“We are reaching people in a completely new way, that we’ve never done before,” said ADRC Manager Lindsay Hamm. “We’re getting our name out there and meeting people we wouldn’t meet otherwise.”
The bus – described as a “mobile medical and social services bus” – is an outgrowth of Hamilton County Commissioner Alicia Reece’s 513Relief.org effort that began during the pandemic to connect citizens to federal, state and local programs to help them find stability.
Equipped with the technology, spaces and handicap access needed to serve community members in person, the brand-new bus launched in January and has served more than 2,300 people across 28 Hamilton County zip codes through August.
A COA representative has been on-board for 41 stops, providing resources and information related to aging, disabilities and caregiving and screening for potential participation in COA programs.
Marshay Watson, an ADRC specialist who represents COA on most of its stops, appreciates the in-person time she gets with those who visit the bus. “It’s important to be able to see people face-to-face and ask questions,” she said.
Watson recalled the case of a woman named Bobbi who visited the bus at multiple stops but never asked for help. The third time Watson saw her, she initiated a conversation and Bobbi confided she needed help with her utility bill.
Watson immediately connected Bobbi with an on-site representative from Hamilton County Job and Family Services, who worked with Duke Energy to cancel Bobbi’s disconnection. While Watson had her attention, she registered Bobbi to receive $50 in free coupons to use at local farmers’ markets through the USDA Senior Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program, managed by Council on Aging.
Watson also shared the story of an older adult man who visited the bus looking for information about finding a job. Even though he did not originally visit to learn about COA services, she observed he had a difficult time climbing the stairs to enter the bus and was able to approach him and suggest she screen him for COA programs.
From the standpoint of many older adults visiting the bus, they appreciate being able to talk to someone in-person rather than having to navigate technology to complete a website form or wait on hold to speak to someone by phone.
“To find help, sometimes you call different places and don’t get to talk to a real person. You get a voice recording,” said Faye, a recent visitor to the bus. “That can be frustrating, especially for older people.”
Faye originally visited the bus to have her blood pressure checked and happened to meet Watson. “Marshay was right there, and we connected,” she said. “It was a godsend when she started talking to me about the farmers’ market program. She’s such an active listener. She has such a warm heart,” Faye said.
Caregivers also stop by the bus for information. Allan, who visited clad in his work uniform, consulted with Watson about help available to care for his wife, for whom he is the primary caregiver. Watson walked though caregiver program information with him, and he promised to discuss the options with his wife.
Whether or not Allan and his wife pursue services through COA, they now are informed about their options. The same can be said for the hundreds of others who have met Watson on the bus this year.
“This is a tremendous resource Hamilton County commissioners have made available to county residents,” said Council on Aging CEO Suzanne Burke. “We appreciate the opportunity to have a seat on the 513Relief Bus and to be able to connect with older adults where they live and work.”