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Monday, September 27, 2021

Marion senior services institutes new department dedicated to mental health

The Human Services department focuses on providing comprehensive mental health care to clients

The Human Services department was instituted as a way to strengthen the already-existing assistance Marion Senior Services offers.
The Human Services department was instituted as a way to strengthen the already-existing assistance Marion Senior Services offers.

A new initiative aims to show quality mental health care has no age limit.

Marion Senior Services (MSS) instituted a new department to promote mental health in Marion County seniors. The Human Services department will focus on enhancing the quality of life and crisis management skills by analyzing individual situations and finding areas for improvement.

The new approach seeks to improve the services MSS already offers, including in-home support and nutrition services, according to a press release. Jennifer Martinez, executive director of MSS, said the Human Services department was established to streamline the problem-solving process in issues often seen with MSS clients. These issues range from day-to-day tasks like unloading a client’s dishwasher or more complicated endeavors like helping a client relocate homes.

While a purely physical approach to solving these problems may resolve the immediate crises, Martinez said Human Services aims to find the root of these issues and provide long-term solutions.

“We are focusing on a more dignified approach when it comes to mental health,” she said. “Looking at the mind, the spirit, the body, caring for the person as a whole.”

This all-encompassing approach will entail a number of organizations across the state that participate in elder care, including first responders, Adult Protective Services, and the Department of Children and Families. Martinez said the goal of Human Services is to streamline the aid process through all relevant outlets, creating a more cohesive network of care.

Some of the more severe situations seen by MSS occur outside the range of their services, during what Martinez called “after hours.”

One incident involved a couple displaced from their home on a Friday at 5:30 p.m. with no relatives or friends to take them in. Martinez was on the phone with fire rescue for an hour and a half in an attempt to find a suitable place to stay for the night, and though the issue was resolved, Martinez said the mental taxation on the couple was cause for concern.

“I could just imagine how they felt, sitting there not knowing what was going to happen to them or how they felt,” she said.

A collection of similar incidents is what inspired the installation of Human Services, Martinez said. In finding and correcting the gaps within each organization, the department seeks to create a more efficient system, easing the mental strain on clients who may experience uncertainty or stress under current practices.  

Human Services will also implement counseling services for their clients, connecting them with a licensed mental health professional to provide the necessary skills for day-to-day living. Cassandra Jackson, the community care director of MSS, said this provision was included after a deeper analysis of seemingly routine referrals.

 Jackson said requests for assistance in homemaking, personal care, meals and other daily tasks often turned into much bigger cases that required more substantial support.

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Self-neglect, the inability to meet basic daily needs due to physical or mental impairments, has become a major issue in the aging community. Forty to 50% of cases reported to Adult Protective Services involve some form of it, according to data from the Public Policy Institute of the AARP. Jackson said those who don’t receive the necessary mental aid may be at risk for self-neglect — something that, in the long run, presents serious health hazards.

The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the growing mental health crisis already afflicting the United States, and according to a study from the Kaiser Family Foundation, loneliness and isolation were common factors in the uptick of adults reporting symptoms of anxiety or depression.   

In the aging population, where many have been isolated due to the high risk of infection, these feelings are especially prominent

Though the sweeping reforms in programs across the state are necessary for more comprehensive care plans, Jackson said the solution to combating loneliness sometimes lies in something as simple as a phone call.

Human Services has already begun offering this telephone reassurance to clients, who Jackson said came to rely on the service for conversation and connection amid the pandemic. Though the calls involved more complicated issues at times, Jackson said they were mostly “harmless” and offered a chance for clients to chat with a listening ear.

The institution of the Human Services department is a step toward the overall goal of MSS to promote independent living for seniors for as long as possible. Though some clients are fearful of becoming burdens to those around them, Martinez said the ability to live independently is impossible to achieve without assistance — something everyone should have at their disposal.

“Asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness. It’s a sign of strength.”


Contact Heather at hbushman@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @hgrizzl.

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