MARQUETTE - When Marquette resident Maxine Hill, 91, had to give up her car five years ago, "that's when things started to go downhill," she said.
As her independence began to wane, she sought help from Alger-Marquette Community Action Board's Meals on Wheels program, one of many services provided throughout Marquette County to seniors who want to continue to live independently.
Heart problems make it difficult for Hall to stand for long; shingles (a viral infection that is devastating for the elderly), contracted two years ago, still causes her chronic pain; and she recently found out she has macular degeneration as well, she said. In spite of this, she confidently lives alone in her own apartment with help from her family and AMCAB.
Maxine Hall, 91, started receiving Meals on Wheels, a program through Alger-Marquette Community Action Board’s meal services, about one year ago. The program has made it easier for her to continue living independently. (Journal photo by Mary Wardell)
Bill Donnell has been the head chef for the AMCAB’s meal services for six years. Donnell said working there has given him a whole new perspective on the challenges senior citizens face. (Journal photo by Mary Wardell)
A photo of the food prepared by Donnell. (Journal photo by Mary Wardell)
"We just have these little things thrown at us," Hall said, laughing good-humoredly. "These are our golden years."
Hall makes a financial donation every month to the program, she said, but no one can be turned down for inability to pay. Individuals must be over 60 and homebound to qualify for Meals on Wheels, but congregate meals are also available to seniors with greater mobility.
"I didn't realize until I got into this - there are elderly people in Marquette who have no income," Hall said. "And I don't know why. But it just disturbs me that there are actually people of my age that are starving to death. And the meal program gives you one balanced meal a day of always two vegetables, fruit and a main dish like meat, chicken, whatever. So to me, I think it's one of the greatest things Marquette does."
Over 100,000 meals were delivered in Alger and Marquette counties last year, and that's just one small branch of the network of services collectively known as the Marquette County Senior Provider Network.
The SPN met last week with officials from the Michigan Office of Services to the Aging, who has been following the SPN because of their successful efforts.
The SPN is an open dialogue group of agencies and individuals working since 2008 to foster collaboration and knowledge of senior citizen services. With over 26 agencies involved, including area senior centers, the Alzheimer's Association, AMCAB, Lake Superior Hospice, Marquette County Department of Human Services, Superior Alliance for Independent Living, law enforcement, the prosecutor's office, as well as local nursing and assisted living homes, the SPN's focus is on keeping seniors living independently and safely in their communities and helping transition them into care facilities when necessary.
According to the 2014 national Medicare handbook, at least 70 percent of people over 65 will need long-term care services and support at some point in their lifetime. And the cost of nursing home care is roughly double that of in-home care in Michigan, according to a 2014 survey by Genworth Financial, Inc.
With federal and state funding dwindling, coupled with an expanding senior population, efficient use of resources is critical, according to SPN cofounder Ruth Almen.
"People are living longer but not necessarily well," Almen said. "There's already a lot of people in this community and a lot of people who aren't getting services from us...So we want people to continue to enjoy living here and have it really be a livable community even when you're old."
OSA Director Kari Sederburg visited Marquette Wednesday, Aug. 20 as part of a statewide tour to collect feedback and identify local needs in order to shape effective legislation on these issues. Over 30 representatives from the SPN attended.
Challenges brought up in this meeting - besides severe funding deficits - include the ethical and practical challenges of "skating around privacy issues," as one social worker put it; training and education; the paperwork burden; communication; making use of pre-existing programs; and ultimately, ensuring no seniors "fall through the cracks," as Almen said.
Goals discussed include founding an Upper Peninsula-wide senior information summit, developing legal means of sharing information between organizations, improving training materials, process streamlining, and more convenient customer access.
Sederburg praised the SPN, calling it a model for how local groups can tackle challenges around the state.
"I think people in Marquette County ... they're just doing it right," she said. "I mean, building relationships - it's exactly what needs to happen around the state in terms of knowing what organizations are around, who to call, how to get people what they need, and I love coming back to this group because they're so passionate. And their ideas and collaboration, it's just fantastic."
Sederburg said partnership among local groups and the state government will help individuals get connected to what they need. A website with access to all aging services is one of OSA's goals for 2015, Sederburg said, though a complete implementation plan is still in development.
"So whether they're an older adult or an individual with a disability, really, the system is complicated," Sederburg said. "People don't know who to call or where to go to, and we want to alleviate that."
Almen said contact your local senior center for the most reliable information about services available to seniors in this area.
Mary Wardell can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 248.