Since 1965, our nation has designated the month of May as a time to honor seniors and raise awareness about the challenges they face. With the COVID-19 pandemic still ongoing, we recognize seniors during an Older Americans Month unlike any other as we all confront a threat the likes of which we have never seen. Yet amidst this daunting struggle is an opportunity to shine a light on how seniors — and the dedicated health and human services professionals caring for them that comprise our national network — are rising to the challenge. In doing so, in ways big and small, they are more than living up to the theme for this year’s Older Americans Month: “Make Your Mark.”
This year’s theme is an invitation to celebrate the numerous contributions that seniors and caregivers make for their families and in their communities. Each day, Lutheran Services in America pays tribute to the many unsung heroes of our national network of senior service organizations with our Frontline Heroes campaign. Our member organizations in 46 states and over 1,400 communities are expanding safety protocols, and making or procuring personal protective equipment in an increasingly smaller market to keep staff and residents of long-term care facilities safe. They have implemented new screening processes, and were ahead of federal guidelines for keeping facilities and their residents and staff healthy and safe.
For the teams at our member organizations, who risk their lives each day they go to work, serving seniors during this pandemic is a moving opportunity to fulfill their year-round mission to ensure all seniors have the chance to live with purpose and meaning. For example, more than 200 of our member organizations provide services that help tackle the most significant social determinants of health through innovative programs and community-based services, ranging from lack of transportation, unstable housing, or food insecurity.
On this front and in tandem with several of our member organizations in the Midwest, Lutheran Services in America has greatly expanded our efforts to improve the lives of seniors through two innovative programs. Through our Great Plains Senior Services Collaborative, we engaged foundation partners to provide on-the-ground resources to members to support rural seniors’ ability to live independently in their homes and communities. Our efforts through this program have improved the health and quality of life for hundreds of seniors in more than 70 rural communities in Minnesota and North Dakota. Since then, we expanded programs in those two states and also extended programs to Montana to reach hundreds more older adults.
In addition, we launched a successful pilot of our LSA Senior Connect program with Genacross Lutheran Services. The program, which was developed by 13 member organizations with funding support from the Lutheran Services Elderly Endowment, connects seniors with chronic health conditions to needed resources in their communities and is already yielding promising results for participating seniors in affordable housing. LSA Senior Connect recently was spotlighted by The Commonwealth Fund in a feature about how the Chronic Care Act presents a valuable opportunity to develop patient-focused approaches to health and wellness.
These initiatives are yielding significant results that promise to improve the lives of so many more older Americans in the years to come. We are proud to lead a network that is making its mark every day on the communities they serve.