During this time of social distancing, our neighbors have stocked up on food and paper products and are staying home. Many are alone and need help in normal times. Twelve members of the Northern Arizona Retired Nurses In Action (NARNIA) volunteering with Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition are making phone calls to reassure neighbors and ensure their needs are met through this trying time.
The callers found that many of VVCC’s neighbors are isolated and scared. Many also have underlying health issues, such as COPD which make them particularly vulnerable to the virus.
The phone calls, though, are making a big difference. “The (neighbors) have a chance to share their fears and anxieties, especially those who live alone, said retired nurse Penny Mathieu. “Even though we remind them of social distancing and other preventive personal care, at least they know that they are still a part of the community and someone still cares about their well-being.”
While sheltering at home, VVCC services are necessarily limited to only essential services, such as taking neighbors to doctor appointments, picking up prescriptions and shopping for neighbors. Protocols have been put in place to protect neighbors and volunteers from the virus.
In their conversations with neighbors, the nurses also learned how much the efforts of VVCC’s caring and brave volunteers are appreciated.
Retired nurse Donna Chalmers quotes some of the comments neighbors have made to her, “Many said, ‘I don't know what I would do at this time without you.’ Some said, ‘my family lives far away and they are worried about me because I don't drive anymore, and I don't know a lot of my neighbors.’” One of those she spoke with said, "I have COPD and I'm scared that if I have contact with someone with the virus, it could kill me."
As well as providing comfort, the nurses also inform the neighbors on how best to protect themselves from the virus through handwashing and social distancing. Most volunteer on a regular basis to provide in-home assessments of older adults applying to become neighbors, help neighbors understand medical recommendations and inform about other VVCC services.
“The nurses have really stepped up in any way they can during the COVID-19 epidemic,” said Mary Jane Thompson, RN, and vice president of VVCC’s Board of Directors. “We’re still called upon by neighbors and friends for information and why our motto is: ‘Once a nurse, always a nurse.’”
We thank the retired nurse volunteers and VVCC volunteers for helping to comfort our neighbors during this critical time,” said VVCC Executive Director Kent Ellsworth. “The calls are heartwarming to our neighbors who are so thankful for their caring.”
NARNIA, which started in 2005, is a social organization that meets once a month, seven months out of the year. Their luncheons include informative speakers who present on healthcare or community organizations like Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition.
Penny Mathieu shown on her scooter.
March 25, 2020—Sedona—Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition continues to provide services during the coronavirus crisis to older adults in need. VVCC has established and implemented COVID-19 safety protcols for volunteers, neighbors (clients), and staff.
VVCC’s Call Center is screening neighbors and volunteers for flu-like and COVID-19 symptoms before taking and booking service requests.
“We are doing everything we can to protect our volunteers and neighbors. We are currently contacting over 800 clients to see if they need help now,” said VVCC Executive Director Kent Ellsworth.
“We thank the community, donors, supporters, and volunteers for all they are doing. Right now the best way the community can help support our efforts is to make a donation to help keep our vans running and support our transportation services.”
As our aging population throughout the Verde Valley increases, so are service requests from neighbors helped by Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition. A new, second mobility van, which can handle wheelchairs and walkers, helps VVCC to meet the growing need, especially for trips to specialty care in Phoenix and Flagstaff. In the next year it will provide 3,500 to 4,000 trips.
The van, a Dodge Grand Caravan, was awarded to VVCC by Arizona Department of Transportation, is a Class 5310 (type of vehicle & type of service) to serve older adults and adults with disabilities who are unable to drive. To qualify to receive the van, VVCC needed to provide 20% of van costs and operating costs. That 20% was provided by individual donors who support VVCC’s mission to help people continue to live independently in their community of choice.
The van will continue to be funded by grants, including an ADOT operating grant, and by generous individual donors. In addition to ADOT, VVCC received transportation grant funds from the City of Sedona, Arizona Community Foundation and May & Stanly Smith Charitable Trust.
VVCC’s first mobility van, awarded by Toyota in 2016, when VVCC was named The Best Volunteer Transportation Organization in the nation, has travelled 90,000 miles since it got on the road in August of 2017. While the new van will help VVCC meet the current needs, VVCC Executive Director Kent Ellsworth projects VVCC will need a third mobility van by the end of the year to keep up with the growing need. “Last year, the one van and volunteers provided over 30,000 trips. The two current vans, along with about 200 volunteer drivers, who use their own vehicles, will provide about 35,000 individual trips throughout this year and drive over 400,000 miles.”
Van driver, Miller, assists a neighbor.
Become part of an award-winning organization that helps older adults maintain quality of life in their own homes. Verde Valley Caregivers Coalition has about 2,200 neighbors enrolled to receive services such as transportation to medical appointments, the grocery store, physical therapy, dialysis, and other important errands. Other services provided by volunteers include business assistance, handy person help, respite assistance, friendly visiting, pet assistance, and more. VVCC also loans Guardian Angel emergency alert units for eligible older adults at risk for falling.
VVCC’s biggest need is for volunteer drivers. Imagine life in the Verde Valley with no car. Many older adults can no longer drive, but need to get to doctor appointments, do shopping, etc. The public transportation available is often not within walking distance. As a volunteer, you list the days and times that you will be available. You receive a call from the Call Center when a ride is needed at one of your available times. You will be scheduled to make that drive if you can at that time. Mileage can be reimbursed.
Volunteers get to meet a variety of interesting people. While most trips are to Sedona or Cottonwood, one volunteer, Hank Culbertson, enjoys getting to know the neighbors and hearing their life stories. He particularly likes the long trips and frequently travels from Verde Valley communities to Flagstaff. He’s taken neighbors as far as Phoenix. Hank says, “I want to drive for Caregivers as long as I can.”
While driving is an important part of VVCC services, there are many other opportunities to help. If you are handy around the house, there are small repairs to be made.
Love to shop? Volunteers are needed to pick up prescriptions, shop for groceries or other items.
Pet lovers can help with care of animals for neighbors recovering from illness or surgery. Pet care is important. One neighbor said of her three little dogs, “They are my only family.”
Family caregivers need breaks to take care of their own needs. Volunteers provide respite for a few hours. Tony Isolda learned about VVCC respite care when his wife was very ill. She got so much out of the visits that when she passed away, he decided he would like to give the gift of respite to others. He has developed a friendship with a 95-year-old neighbor. When Tony visits they read, play games and “have a great time.” Speaking from experience Tony says, “Those visits are better than a million bucks to a neighbor.”
For information about VVCC services and volunteering please call (928) 204-1238. See Volunteer Opportunities for a full list of volunteer opportunities. You decide when and how often you can volunteer.
Linda M. Clark
Development & Communications Manager
299 Van Deren, Suite 2
Sedona, AZ 86336