Washtenaw County organizations launch ‘Care on Wheels’ service during pandemic

Effort supported by United Way of Washtenaw County

Stock photo of two people holding hands. (Pexels)

YPSILANTI, Mich. – Two local organizations have joined forces to help seniors cope with increased isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels delivers meals to homebound seniors three days a week. During the pandemic, the organization’s staff members and volunteers observed a general decline in their client’s day-to-day life.

“I noticed while doing (health assessments) that clients were really struggling with doing minor housekeeping tasks,” said Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels clinical social worker Megan Berry. “I found that a lot of people don’t know to ask for support.”

Berry said that while support programs and services exist, many people aren’t aware of them.

“I remember one lady mentioning that having her laundry downstairs was a barrier,” said Berry. “She was telling me the rhythm she has figured out. She has to empty clothes out of the dryer into a garbage bag and then she has to drag the bag up the stairs while holding the railing. None of that sounds safe.”

After hearing from numerous clients about housekeeping struggles, Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels decided to launch a program with Seniors Helping Seniors, a non-medical service in which seniors act as caregivers for other seniors and provide in-home, peer-to-peer support.

Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels applied for a grant from United Way of Washtenaw County in Spring 2021 and received $7,500 to pilot the “Care on Wheels” program. The grant funding has also helped to provide some seniors with cleaning supplies and lightweight vacuums.

Currently, the program offers its clients three hours a month with housekeeping and social support.

Many of the seniors Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels serve cannot afford private care, so even a few sessions a month can go a long way, said Berry.

“We are very happy to be a part of this process,” said owner of Seniors Helping Seniors, Carmo Ribeiro. “So far, I’ve heard a lot of good response from the community of people that we are helping.”

Ribeiro said his employees tend to either be approaching retirement or are retired but still active. They work part-time and help with cleaning and organizing their homes, and sometimes assist in getting clients to hair salons or other places they need to go.

“In general, we have people that are mid-70s and late-70s that are still doing a tremendous job helping people in their 90s,” said Ribeiro. “We have a lady who is 102 years old that we are helping. And our caregiver is in their late-70s. They’re doing very well. It was the client’s birthday recently and she received a lot of cards. One of the activities was for the caregiver to read the cards in a loud voice for her.”

Berry said “Care on Wheels” has assisted 13 area seniors since August, and that 154 hours of care had been provided. Meals on Wheels is now pursuing further grant funding to expand the program to reach more community members in need.

“The need is there,” she said. “It seems like we have some interested community partners and the model for enhancing community care is becoming a lot stronger.”

Consistent in-home care reduces hospitalizations and nursing home stays, she said.

Although the pandemic caused many of Ribeiro’s employees to stop working for fear of contracting the virus, he said “heroes” among them emerged in order to help homebound seniors who don’t have anyone at all. This, he said, made a major impact on clients.

“We found that in general the communication, the interaction -- people start to value a little more the time they can spend with others,” said Ribeiro. “They do not take things for granted anymore. We see a little more respect on both sides and attention to try really to live in the present.”

For more information about Ypsilanti Meals on Wheels, visit www.ymow.org.

For more information about Seniors Helping Seniors, visit www.seniorshelpingseniors.com.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.