Established in 1967, The Pima Council on Aging is a nonprofit organization helping Pima County’s elderly population and their caregivers. With both direct and subcontracted services available, the council works with roughly 20,000 people every year over the age of 60.
One of the primary subcontracted services is the nutrition plan. This plan is divided into two areas, home-delivered meals for people who are not physically able to prepare their own food, and congregate meals, those held at a recreational center in the county.
According to Adina Wingate, PCOA director of marketing and public relations, even something as small as a meal can make a difference in someone’s life.
“We already know that people living on very thin income or living under the federal poverty level are not eating enough,” she said. “They are not getting the right food on a daily basis, and they need a way to get their basic nutrition in a place that is safe and clean.”
Congregate meals services can be found in 13 different recreation centers around the county.
The council also contracts outside help for home repairs and modification, community organization and in-home personal care.
Some of the direct services provided by PCOA are a Helpline community services system, caregivers support, elder rights and benefits education, long-term ombudsmen, end of life care and the neighbors care alliances. “Nutrition, transportation and housing are our three-legged stool,” Wingate said.
According to Lisa Reams, vice president of programs and services, the Helpline is their most popular service. The helpline has five staff members two of them who are bilingual.
“The helpline is the place for people to start, you call our number and everything starts from there,” Reams said.
About 90 percent of the funding behind the council’s work comes from the federal government under the umbrella of the Old American Act that was enacted in 1965. Subcontracted resources provided include adult health care, durable medical equipment and Emergency Alert services.
While PCOA is able to help thousands throughout the community, there is a waiting list in the range of 200 to 300 people.
“It is hard to tell people I don’t have room when I know they need help,” Reams said. “The most vulnerable go first and we check in with the others regularly to see how they are doing.”
Even though people have to be at least 60 years old to qualify for PCOA services, there are some exceptions.
“We are seeing more people who are younger adults who are finding themselves as the caregiver for parents who have different needs because of different disease like dementia,” Reams said. “More and more adults ask about the resources.”
Regarding older people with disabilities, PCOA does not directly provide resources and services, but do help people contact other organizations.
According to Reams, this doesn’t mean that PCOA will not provide any programs to people with disabilities, they just want to help locate the most appropriate help for each individual.
One such partner organization is Adult Loss of Hearing Association, which serves throughout Southern Arizona, and specifically in Pima County.
PCOA also has elder rights and benefits, which includes outreach and help for anybody who has questions about their own situation. To achieve this goal, the council maintains a community site in Marana every Tuesday, staffed by a specialist.
“We feel that we really need to have a sustain kind of level of awareness for people who were living in the Marana area, that goes out Avra Valley and Picture Rocks” Wingate said.“They recognize that they are their own distinct community but they are part of the metropolitan area.”
PCOA also completes a report on the community every three to four years. The report includes the different concerns of the elder population and their caregivers, and also informs the public about the state of older adults, highlight what the community is doing correctly and what do they need to improve.
For the PCOA staff and administration, it is important that the elder community know there is an organization committed to helping them.
“We are proving programs to meet those need that we are advocating to the government and funding sources to increase availability to program those program,” Reams said. “To provide a voice for older adults for when they are not able to provide a voice for themselves.”
Maria Angulo is a Northern Arizona University journalism student and Tucson Local Media intern.