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Group studies seniors' services

A focus group of nearly 60 participants searches for solutions to problems of caring for the elderly.

By KATHERINE BLOK

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 24, 2000


SPRING HILL -- People who work with the elderly all face similar problems: insufficient funding, high medical costs and scattered resources.

They need help with care, and non-profit organizations are in desperate need for volunteers to provide the services that are needed.

Those common problems are what brought almost 60 public officials, representatives from non-profit organizations and members of the community together Friday for a focus group aimed at identifying problems in providing elderly services and coming up with solutions.

The focus group was sponsored by the non-profit Mid-Florida Area Agency on Aging and met at St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church.

Six groups of elderly advocates, each discussing a single issue, found that the same problems face them all:

Recruiting, training and recognition of volunteers.

Transportation for those who cannot or do not know how to drive.

Educating the general public about what resources are available and how to contact various organizations.

A lack of readily available adult day care.

Coordinating the efforts of multiple volunteer organizations and government agencies.

Now that the information has been gathered, the Mid-Florida Area Agency on Aging will compile all of the ideas during the next few months and issue a report.

The report will be used within the agency, which serves 16 counties, and will be distributed to Friday's participants, so various organizations and agencies can tailor their services to the needs of Hernando's elderly population, said Vidya Hogan, planning administrator for Mid-Florida.

"The needs of people in Hernando County are not the same as the needs of people who reside in other counties," said Dean LaFrentz, executive director of the agency. "We can't just take one formula and apply it to the whole area."

Peg O'Connell, a volunteer state ombudsman for long-term care in the Mid-Florida area, said volunteers are a crucial part of getting services to elderly people who need them.

"No matter where you go, you're going to find someone in need," O'Connell said.

As of June 1, Hernando's population was 130,718, according to the Hernando Planning Department. Of those, about 31.75 percent were 65 or older, giving Hernando the second-highest percentage of senior citizens in the state.

Friday's focus group gave participants the opportunity to discuss the needs of the elderly residents with people whom they normally would not have a chance to talk with. That gave everyone fresh ideas and perspectives, said Jean Rags, Hernando County's director of social services.

The forum brought out "the true-to-the-cause, the people who really care," Hogan said. "They're very concerned, not only about themselves, but about their neighbors."

Through those shared concerns, a sense of community developed and will facilitate better ideas and solutions, she said.

"People made connections here," Hogan said.

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