Focusing on the ‘Road to Recovery’

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The Clark County Commission on Aging is setting its sights on the “Road to Recovery” for 2021 and hosting a multitude of “Fireside Chat-style” discussions with the community in preparation for the future. 

The yearlong focus on the community will educate and raise awareness about the COVID-19 pandemic and how the community can learn about it and become more resilient to a pandemic in the future. 

“What we found was that the Aging Readiness Plan did not predict this pandemic,” Commission on Aging Chairman Chuck Green said. “We don’t have a readiness plan to deal with a pandemic, nor do we have a path out of it.” 

Each year, the commission picks a theme for the upcoming year. For 2020, the commission’s theme was “community engagement,” something Green said was a “pretty ironic choice” considering how the pandemic hit three months in. However, for 2021, Green said the commission wants to reuse the “Community Engagement” theme with the pandemic in mind. 

“If we’re going to engage the community, let’s make it more like a sit around a table or a fire pit, have a conversation and get a couple of experts at the tables to share their stories,” Green explained. “We have the opportunity for the commission and the community to participate, ask questions and share information.”

Each month, the commission will have a facilitated discussion on a single topic. For March, discussions will revolve around an overview of the commission’s “Road to Recovery from COVID-19 for older adults.” In April, discussion will focus on first responders throughout the pandemic. Green said discussion topics for the April meeting include “what services are offered to older adults,” “how should older adults prepare for the next pandemic,” and “what has changed in the COVID era and what improvements have been made?”

While it may be a couple years or decades until the next pandemic, Green said the purpose of the facilitated discussions is to gain insight into what has helped the community and how the community can be more resilient for the next disease, whether it’s in 2022 or 2042. 

“The outcome of each of these meetings is another step in the road to recovery that we can document in creating a pandemic response plan that eventually gets put into an update of the aging readiness plan,” he said.

Commissioner Larry Smith said the main “end goal” for the commission is to have enough information by the end of 2021 to create a document that said, “hey, if the pandemic were to happen again, here’s what you can do to protect people and get moving forward in the right direction.” 

Both Green and Smith said engaging with the community is a top priority for the commission, with all meetings being available for public participation and questions. 

“We want to get them directly engaged,” Green said. “Rather than sitting and listening to people talk for 45 minutes, this is an hour that we’re going to dedicate to community discussion.” 

According to Green and Smith, the original “Aging Readiness Plan” was adopted in 2012 and led to the creation of the Commission on Aging. The plan has a variety of “focus areas” such as health services, transportation, housing and more for aging communities in the area. Some of the work of the commission has led to the creation of policy changes and even legislation. 

“Next year, it’ll be 10 years old, and that is getting out there, as far as a plan is concerned,” Green said. “We’re now trying to write the pandemic chapter.” 

Green said public participation in the meetings is “incredibly easy” as the meetings now take place on the virtual WebEx platform. Community members join the meeting online each week to listen in (non-commission members are audio only) to discussions between the commission and professionals on each topic. If a community member has a question to ask or an experience to share, they “raise their hand” to be admitted into the discussion. 

“It takes maybe five or six seconds to do but once they’re in, they’re part of the meeting,” Green said. 

Green and Smith said they are excited to help the community in any way the commission can, mentioning that both the meetings and the updated readiness plan will better prepare the community for the future. 

“This pandemic has really been hard on our community,” Green said. “Part of what we want to do is not only let people know that there’s people out there like this commission that care and want to help. We want to provide guidance and hope where we can, but also give the community a chance to engage with experts, engage with our discussions and take that information back to their various groups.” 

The full list of meeting topics is: 

• March 17 – Overview of the road to recovery from COVID-19 for older adults 

• April 21 – First and early responders

• May 19 – Serious illness and caregiver support

• July 21 – Food as medicine

• Aug. 18 – Social determinants of health

• Sept. 15 – Opportunities for social connections

• Oct. 20 – Personal economics and financial recovery. 

For information on how to join and participate in a commission online meeting, visit clark.wa.gov/community-planning/commission-aging-meetings.

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