Already a subscriber? Log in
- Unparalleled business coverage of the Iowa City / Cedar Rapids corridor.
- Immediate access to subscriber-only content on our website.
- 52 issues per year delivered digitally, in print or both.
- Support locally owned and operated journalism.
CASI enters its 50th year still struggling to overcome the long-term challenges created when the COVID-19 pandemic forced the senior lifeline to close its doors. More than a year and a half after the Center for Active Seniors, Inc. reopened in March 2021, CASI still is feeling the impact as many regulars remain slow to come back to take advantage of its full menu of activities and services. Fortunately for the Quad Cities, however, COVID-19 did not prevent CASI’s dedicated staff from finding unique ways to serve area seniors during the pandemic’s darkest days through its advocacy arm. It continued to operate despite the center’s shuttered doors, CASI President & CEO Laura Kopp said. Those CASI workers, who were accustomed to working remotely, were trusted advisors and they worked to maintain connections with CASI’s most vulnerable and often unplugged population. Many had flip phones, others had none at all. “So when we automatically went from normal to a very literal virtual reality, our seniors were left holding the bag,” Ms. Kopp said. CASI stepped up to help. For example, seniors who weren’t going to the grocery store were going without food and they weren’t getting their prescriptions because they had no way to navigate the online world. “At the beginning our social workers were that connection between our seniors and healthcare, between our seniors and sustainable food sources,” Ms. Kopp added. Then, she said, “On top of that, the derecho hit in August.” It left many seniors without power and their food quickly became inedible and was left rotting in their refrigerators. CASI, which had created a small home-delivered meal program to provide donated unused farmer’s market produce when the pandemic hit, already had a mechanism in place to help. The center’s staff and volunteers mobilized, Ms. Kopp said, to help seniors stuck in multi-floor apartments by cleaning out their fridges and filling them with fresh food and water. CASI also stepped in to fill a critical need for tech-averse seniors during the rollout of the COVID vaccine in January 2021. Because they were the most vulnerable COVID-19 population, seniors also were the first to be served – but they had to get in line first. “Short-sightedly, the health department made accessing those appointments online only,” Ms. Kopp said. Desperate seniors did not know where to turn. “We quickly raised our hand and said ‘that’s not going to work for your 65 and older crowd,’ and they said, ‘Can you help?’” she recalled. Three staff members got to work. “We put together a hotline basically using a dedicated voice mailbox where folks could call and leave their name and number and we would automatically put them on the waitlist” to receive the vaccine, Ms. Kopp said. Through that voicemail process, CASI was able to identify people who needed to be reached, which allowed them to push out automated calls with a single message to thousands of people all at one time. That message essentially said: “We’ve got your name. We have you on the list. We’re going to get an appointment for you,” Ms. Kopp said. In addition to helping seniors, their efforts also reduced the number of calls from “absolutely panicked seniors” who were bogging down the system by jamming hospital, clinic and doctor offices’ phone lines. Through its effort, CASI gave seniors “some peace and some sense that someone has got me – I’m on someone’s list,” Ms. Kopp said. Added Sue Rector, CASI’s director of development, “Some of the calls were heartwrenching. When you get hold of someone to tell them you are getting them scheduled for a vaccine, they would just sob because they haven’t been out of their apartment or their home for months and they say ‘you’re saving our lives.’” In all, CASI assisted more than 4,000 seniors in getting vaccinated – a contribution that Ms. Kopp and others found especially rewarding. “It felt so good after being so impotent for so long and watching the suffering going on around us,” she said.