Lewis County Senior Board updates the community

By Lynnette Hoffman

Lewis County Senior Board updates the community

Olequa Senior Center is located at 119 SW Kerron Ave. in Winlock.

We have recently seen many comments on Facebook about what is happening with the Lewis County Senior Centers and their opening in the near future. The Lewis County Senior Board has spoken with the Lewis County News and this is their side of the story.

Colonel Ron Averill, Chairman of the Lewis County Senior Board sent a letter to the community. Here it is in its entirety:

"I entirely sympathize with all the seniors in Lewis County who want to have our senior centers reopen. With the anticipated relaxation of pandemic lockdown measures the Governor announced to be implemented on June 30, the Lewis County Seniors Board approved a plan for phased reopening. Except for the Twin Cities Senior Center, the other four centers have been closed to senior activity since March of 2020, a year, and a quarter.

The Lewis County Public Health and Social Services (Health Department) arranged for a safety inspection of the buildings by Infection Prevention and Antimicrobial Consultants, LLC (IPAC). Unfortunately, IPAC discovered serious hazards in the HVAC systems of all facilities, evidence of mold in one facility, and recommended a thorough sanitization of all the facilities and the establishment of both protective equipment and procedures. They have recommended that the cleanup work be performed by specialists in sanitizing facilities.

This work must be performed to make the senior centers safe for the vulnerable seniors who will be using them. We have 35 percent of our senior population who have not been vaccinated for COVID-19 coronavirus and the condition of the HVAC system alone places them at considerable risk. In addition, we will have to establish safety procedures in the facilities and train staff for appropriate implementation. We still hope to accomplish these tasks in mid to late July and begin both a phased reduction in our emergency meal delivery program and gradual transition back to our congregate nutrition and enrichment programs at our senior centers.

We are fully aware that there are seniors who want the centers to open immediately so that they can socialize with their friends and have their lives return to a more normal mode. But the risk is too great currently. The Lewis County Senior Board, with the advice of IPAC and the Lewis County Public Health and Social Services (Health Department) has made this decision, not the Executive Director, Glenda Forga, or her staff.

Unfortunately, a few members of the community have initiated a campaign of harassment and threats directed at our Executive Director, members of the Lewis County Seniors Board and staff. At the least some of these messages have been ugly and threatening, causing great stress to the recipients. At the worst, some messages threaten criminal reprisal and are unconscionable in a civil society. This activity has gone beyond the pale and must stop. There are legal consequences for criminal behavior and those who are initiating these threats need to know that we are keeping a record and working with legal authority to protect our staff. It is time to cool down. In return we will work as expeditiously as possible to get the senior centers open."

Commissioner Gary Stamper stated, "I continue to support the Lewis County Senior Board in maintaining and the management of the Lewis County Senior Centers."

Olga Miller, Board member of the Lewis County Senior Centers stated, "When the COVID pandemic struck our senior's centers were suddenly closed. Glenda Forga and the LCS staff were transitioned into senior meals preparation and delivery mode to seniors homes.

This was a logistical challenge finding and ordering disposable supplies for the weekly meals. Seven frozen dinners per person per week. I am proud of Glenda, our Executive Director who saw this program through the closures. Critics should try walking in Glenda's shoes this past year." These past three months, Glenda has also endured personal loss of her sister 3 months ago, her brother 3 weeks ago and her husband Jim has been diagnosed with stage 3 bladder cancer, during this time, she only took 2 days off. Working during grieving is not an easy task.

Fred Rider, board member of the Lewis County Senior Centers stated, "Except for an extemporaneous gathering at the Rowdy Rooster, no formal request has been made by the Winlock Senior Board to open the Winlock Senior Center. Also, no members of the Winlock Senior Center Board have attended a meeting of the Lewis County Senior Board to make an official request."

Mayor Brandon Svenson stated, "We all care a great deal about our senior community's health and wellness. There will always be differences of opinion regarding how best we go about this. What's most important here is to move forward diligently, with a positive attitude, and focus on actually sorting issues out, not tearing anyone down. Be the change you want to see."

It is important to understand how boards work, the Executive Director has zero voting rights, only the board has the right to vote. The Lewis County Commissioners have no control how the board operates and functions, they only approve funding. The board members are appointed by the remaining board members. Nobody is self-appointed. At this time, the Winlock Senior Center does not have representation on the Lewis County Senior Board. There are open positions, but it is imperative that the person has board experience and can look at issues from 30,000 feet, not just their local senior center. The board makes decisions for all their centers, they do not make decisions for only one center.

Since March of 2020, the Lewis County Senior Center in Chehalis has been preparing meals. All employees were moved to help process the meals. They have produced over 250,000 meals since COVID. In April, they prepared over 22,000 meals, which is far above the number who visited the senior centers for meals before COVID-19. May was 12,040 meals. This is a huge transition for any team to make and succeed. The Executive Director met with Lewis County Facilities group in Winlock on July 1 to facilitate the required cleaning by IMPAC.

While many in Winlock are unhappy that the senior centers have not opened sooner, others have stated they would feel better about attending after more people have been immunized and things feel safer. Many have felt alone and isolated, which has been difficult, especially for our most vulnerable adults. It is the intention to get the senior centers open as soon as possible, while making it as safe as possible.