By Joe Giesy
Gailor Blake, 88, opened the door to his Austintown home at 9 a.m. to welcome Terri Zarlingo with a bright smile.
“She’s like family,” Blake said, as Zarlingo, a driver for Celtic Healthcare’s hot-meals delivery program, arrives.
Where to go
Several organizations in Columbiana, Mahoning and Trumbull counties provide services for the Mahoning Valley’s aging population. They include:
Area Agency on Aging 11 Inc.: 5555 Youngstown-Warren Road, Suite 2685, Niles; phone, 330-505-2300 or toll-free 800-686-7367.
Help Hotline Crisis Center Inc.: P.O. Box 46, Youngstown; phone: 330-747-2696, or dial 211.
Catholic Charities Regional Agency: 2401 Belmont Ave., Youngstown; phone, 330-744-3320.
Columbiana County Office on Aging: 785 E. State St., Salem; phone, 330-332-1163.
Mahoning County Senior Center: 1110 Fifth Ave., Youngstown, phone, 330-744-5071.
SCOPE Inc of Trumbull County: 220 W. Market St., Warren; phone, 330-399-8846.
Source: The Vindicator/Help Hotline Crisis Center
Once Zarlingo finishes her short, friendly discussion with Blake, she sets his meal out and leaves. She may be the last person Blake — one of the last survivors of his own family — sees that day unless neighbors visit.
Many independent-living seniors in the Mahoning Valley face similar situations: They live alone with no one to check on them but social workers or home-nurse aides.
Other senior citizens do not receive home-visit services at all.
Several organizations in Youngstown and Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties provide services for the area’s aging population, but no overarching agency exists to centralize these services and standardize the well-being of the Mahoning Valley’s independent senior citizens.
Youngstown Councilwoman Annie Gillam thinks the city could benefit from a central agency.
Gillam, D-1st, said accounting for every person in the city may not be possible, but getting involved with programs through churches and area agencies could prove beneficial to better inform elderly citizens about available services.
Older adults living alone with no one to check on them could be in danger, said Alan Bayowski, gerontologist and director of the Shepherd Foundation, an affiliate of Shepherd of the Valley, which provides senior services in the Valley.
Should a senior fall or become too ill to seek treatment, that person could be left alone for days or even weeks, he said.
Lisa Solley with the Area Agency on Aging 11 Inc., Niles, said most older citizens want to stay in their homes, but they need some assistance.
Her agency collects federal, state and local funds and then distributes them to local providers in Ashtabula, Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties. Those providers then help those who qualify for services.
Solley said most people who request services might not qualify for funds, but the agency still tries to link them up with appropriate services. If no state funding is available, federal programs can sometimes be used, she said.
Ohio’s citizens and service organizations face the challenge of no state funding for citizens above the poverty line.
Organizations such as Celtic Healthcare, 3530 Belmont Ave., provide food, home-health aides and transportation for qualifying adults over 60 through grants.
Other federal funds provide services such as air-conditioning units for households in need. Solley said this service was used by AAA11 clients more recently in the high-temperature conditions last month.
Extreme weather conditions exacerbate danger when ice on the drive between the door and mailbox causes the senior citizen to slip or high heat affects pre-existing medical conditions such as breathing problems or congestive heart failure.
Bayowski said even five minutes in the hot sun can have a real negative effect on older adults, which becomes a problem when they try to work outside.
“As we get older, our desire to remain active pushes us to do things our bodies are unable to do,” Bayowski said.
Blake falls into this category.
He still manages his household chores and yard work. Despite seeing him for only short periods of time, Zarlingo was able to persuade him to leave his untrimmed hedges for another time and remain in his air-conditioned house during the recent summer heat wave.
Bayowski praised meal programs for this reason as vital to older adults who live alone because they provide both food and regular companionship.
Solley also spoke highly of the programs.
“For at least five days, you have someone checking on them,” Solley said.
Along with Celtic Healthcare and other programs in the Valley, Meals on Wheels Youngstown has volunteers deliver meals to clients who request the service.
Laura Jenkins with Meals on Wheels Youngstown said delivery drivers call her if a client who normally answers the door does not do so or things near the house seem out of the ordinary.
Jenkins said there were some occasions when emergency services discovered the client on the floor, unable to get up or even dead.
Zarlingo once came to the aid of a client who had a stroke and collapsed during the meal delivery. Zarlingo was able to call 911, and the woman still lives on her own several years after the incident.
The Mahoning County Sheriff’s Department provides a Senior Watch Program to identify households with independent-living senior citizens at risk of criminal victimization.
The Senior Services Unit identifies at-risk citizens through community outreach at public events senior citizens may attend. Like other agencies, the unit relies on referrals from community members.
Once a referral or request has been made, the unit contacts senior citizens in Mahoning County to determine their level of personal safety and then sends officers to visit them periodically and report suspicious activities.
For some communities, taking care of neighbors could be as simple as mowing the lawn or bringing in the newspaper.
Zarlingo takes it a step further, though, when she runs small errands for her clients that includes tracking down an extension cord for one man who could not plug in his air conditioner or a five-pound bag of sugar she would drop off for Blake when she made later deliveries back in Austintown.
The NewsOutlet, which pairs student journalists with professionals, is a collaboration between Youngstown State University, Kent State University, the University of Akron and The Vindicator, Akron Beacon Journal and Rubber City Radio.