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Focus group to address senior needs

The Mid-Florida Area Agency on Aging will ask questions with an eye toward improving services for the elderly.


© St. Petersburg Times, published June 21, 2000

SPRING HILL -- A non-profit organization will gather civic-minded residents and community leaders Friday to discuss how to better meet the needs of senior citizens in Hernando County.

The sponsor of the focus group, the Mid-Florida Area Agency on Aging, will hold a three-hour session at St. Francis Cabrini Catholic Church. Volunteers from the community will be divided into smaller groups to answer questions on a variety of topics, said Vidya Hogan, planning administrator for the agency.

Hogan said each of the smaller groups will discuss one of the following topics: outreach and services for the very frail elderly, developing community and volunteer resources for service expansion, promoting caregiver support and well-being, improving home environments for the low-income elderly and improving the life of rural and isolated elderly residents.

The Area Agency on Aging brings together focus groups because the agency "is responsible for planning the best variety of services for a 16-county area, and each county is different," Hogan said.

The agency coordinates Meals on Wheels, transportation, in-home services and congregate meals, where people can come to a specified place to receive prepared meals.

In the focus groups, mediators from the agency will ask specific questions, Hogan said, and the feedback from community members and local professionals will be used to help plan better programs.

"We use (the feedback) in terms of where we allocate money for services," Hogan said. "It helps us a lot to get a feel for things (because) county infrastructures are different."

Besides the benefits to the community at large, the focus groups get people together who have similar interests and who want to help the elderly, Hogan said.

A report will be issued by the agency a few months after the focus group has met, Hogan said, and changes will be made to the organization's programs.

Although change is very slow, "you do see it," she said.

For Friday's focus group, the agency is looking for "a really good cross-section of the community -- everybody who has an interest in aging issues," Hogan said. "We're not looking for any one particular demographic."

Anyone interested in participating can reserve a space by calling (352) 378-6649, but Hogan stressed that seating is limited and participants must make a reservation.

The focus group will hear from state Rep. Nancy Argenziano, R-Crystal River, chairwoman of the House Committee on Elder Affairs and Long Term Care. Hogan said other local state legislators have been invited to participate in the discussions, but have not yet responded to the invitation.

"It's an excellent opportunity, not only to hear what some of these people have to say, but to do some networking to see how we can be working together collaboratively," said Jean Rags, director of social services for Hernando County.

Rags, who will attend Friday's session, said that the county will look at the suggestions made by the focus group and by the area agency in its report, but that the county is also working on its own survey of the needs of the elderly.

"We're working on putting together a community needs assessment," she said. "It's a collaborative effort (with) the North-Central Florida Health Planning Council, the (state) Department of Health and the Hernando County Health Care Advisory Board."

Any additional information the Area Agency on Aging can provide will be welcomed by the county, Rags said.

"Certainly, the more information we have," she said, "the better prepared we are to meet the needs (of the elderly) in the future."

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