Skirt Community: Caring for the Aging

By Helen Mitternight 

Someone had called the police. An elderly woman was wandering around the neighborhood and the caller was concerned about neglect or abuse.  The police department’s senior citizen victims advocate called Jamie Roper of the Mayor’s Office on Aging, and, together, they went to the scene.  

At the woman’s home, her husband, a man in his 80s, was at wit’s end. He thought his wife had dementia and he wasn’t strong enough to restrain her, nor could he watch her all of the time.  

Jamie called Trident Area Agency on Aging and the nonprofit’s dementia specialist was able to get the woman medical help, as well as arrange for a respite grant so the husband could have someone give him much-needed relief to run errands or just take time for himself.  

 “They are a godsend to me because a lot of times, seniors just don’t know where to turn,” Jamie says. “The good thing about them is that none of it is income-based, so they serve any senior, and they are so flexible in their ability to work with people.” 

 TAAA, known before 2005 as ElderLink, is a nonprofit serving seniors, adults with disabilities and family caregivers in Berkeley, Dorchester and Charleston counties.  

 TAAA offers or contracts for services including information and referral; assistance in filling out forms such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or other assistance services; long-term care ombudsmanship; insurance counseling; and family caregiver support and respite care. They even offer mini-grants for respite care and supplies such as nutritional drinks or incontinence products.  

 “For the insurance, we don’t sell insurance, but we can work with them to find the program that fits them the best, including Medicare and Medicaid. For the ombudsman program, we use people who are trained and have background checks to look into and settle complaints in licensed long-term care facilities,” says Stephanie Blunt, TAAA’s executive director. “And, last year, we gave over 700 respite grants for families where maybe you have a senior taking care of a spouse, or children taking care of aging parents. The respite grants give them the chance to go to the grocery, or go to the doctor, or even take a nap if that’s what they need. “We’re a one-stop shop for aging and disability services.” 

Stephanie was almost raised to do this job. Her mother was a senior services provider in Dorchester County, and later worked at a center that served those with disabilities. Stephanie was recruited to help out at health fairs and holiday parties and volunteered during summers at the center. She started at TAAA in 1995, left for similar work in Berkeley County, and then returned to TAAA in 2000. By 2002, she was named executive director.  

Last fiscal year, TAAA helped more than 2,500 people with family caregiver support and provided 527 respite grants, helped almost 570 people with information and referrals, and looked into almost 3,000 complaints against long-term care facilities.  

For Stephanie, being on the spot for people in need is what it’s all about. She recalls a woman who came to TAAA during the holidays a few years ago. The woman was caring for her father, who had Alzheimer’s, and her husband had just died in an automobile accident.  

 “She was the primary caregiver and she had to plan a funeral,” Stephanie recalls. “You could just see the stress and worry and shock, and we were able to provide her an emergency respite grant so her father could be at a safe place while she worked through that difficult time. To me, that’s what it’s all about. Being here when people need you, not when it’s convenient for the organization but when people need you.” 

Stephanie says donations are always welcome, but she urges people to donate time as well, either through TAAA’s volunteer ombudsman program or even locally.  

 “If you have an aging neighbor, look out for them,” Stephanie says. “If they’re no longer driving, offer to take them to the doctor, or pick up their prescriptions or groceries, or offer to take their trash out. People should be there for their neighbors.” 

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