Catholic Charities, Regence partner to help Oregon’s seniors age in place

June 07, 2019
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By Regence

Photo Caption: Regence and Catholic Charities staff celebrate another year of partnership.

Regence believes that every partnership we cultivate, every dollar we pledge and every hour we volunteer makes the communities in which we live, work and play healthier. This post is part of a blog series that highlights how Regence is collaborating with community partners to positively impact the quality of life of people and families in our communities.

The U.S. population is aging rapidly. By 2030, the number of U.S adults aged 65 or older will more than double to 71 million, according to the Center for Disease Control. And in Oregon, it is estimated that over one million people – or about one in four residents – will be part of the 65+ population.

As this transition occurs, more and more Oregonians are expected to experience difficulty aging in place – that is, remaining in their homes without support in key areas such as transportation, home maintenance and sourcing nutritious food.

Since 1933, Catholic Charities of Oregon has partnered with underserved and marginalized communities to achieve lasting solutions to poverty and injustice. Key initiatives include housing services, financial wellness, counseling and parish-ministry programs that engage parishioners and volunteers with their communities.

A survey of Catholic Charities’ statewide network revealed that 14% of older adults have little-to-no access to critical services that help address their needs and desire to age in place; and 66% reported that their biggest worry as they age is staying healthy and retaining independence. In response to these findings, Catholic Charities—recognizing the need to expand outreach services to this vulnerable and growing population of Oregonians—developed a center to improve quality of life and provide services and supports to allow seniors to age in place.

The Senior Services Resource Center, which opened its doors in Jan. 2019, was strengthened by a grant from Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon used to hire Senior Services Coordinator Jennifer Mirek. In addition to supporting parishioners, Mirek will cultivate volunteers at each of the parishes to lead outreach in their own communities.

“We are deeply grateful for Regence’s commitment to these most vulnerable older Oregonians, and for its support of the growing cadre of volunteers and staff whose work will make it possible for older adults to remain self-sufficient, connected, and active members of our local communities,” said Deacon Rick Birkel, Executive Director of Catholic Charities of Oregon.  

The Senior Services Resource Center cites two main areas of focus: parish-based senior care ministry and outreach to older adults in their housing communities. One key initiative is the Friendly Visitor Program, a new outreach program that addresses loneliness and isolation in older adults. In this program, volunteers visit homebound seniors on a weekly rotation to provide social interaction, a listening ear and support to participants, to help break the negative cycle of isolation.

“Knowing that [my Friendly Visitor] is coming just makes my day,” said Oregon resident, Eleanor, who participates in the Friendly Visitor Program. “I really relish any interaction from outside these four walls. It’s nice to hear about other things going on besides in my little world and she makes this old lady feel like she has a friend.”

As Catholic Charities expands their outreach this year, they have set a goal to roll out the Friendly Visitor program to five Portland-area parishes and two housing communities by the end of the year.

To reach its goal, Catholic Charities relies on community and volunteer support, along with funding from corporate donors. Since 2003, Regence BlueCross BlueShield of Oregon and its parent company have given over $1M toward the support of Catholic Charities programs, including $40,000 toward the development of the Senior Services Resource Center in 2019.

“It was a natural fit to fund the development of the Senior Services Resource Center, given our own interest in supporting independence and aging in place for our growing senior population,” said Alison Arella, assistant director of corporate social responsibility. “We are proud to support Catholic Charities’ mission to address the needs of marginalized communities and improve quality of life for all Oregonians.”

To learn more about Catholic Charities of Oregon, please visit catholiccharitiesoregon.org/.

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