Program answers seniors' questions CARROLL COUNTY SENIORS

December 09, 1992|By Katherine Richards | Katherine Richards,Staff Writer

The phone rings, again and again.

An elderly man calls with a question about the amount of Social Security his wife will collect after his death.

An elderly woman phones. She and her husband, both disabled, woke up to a smoke-filled house. They discovered that their flue needs to be repaired, but they don't have the money.

Another ring. This time, it is an older woman looking for help caring for her disabled daughter.

Welcome to an hour in the life of the Carroll County Senior Information and Assistance Program, formerly known as Project Gateway.

The person answering the phone is Elizabeth Passman, program coordinator for Carroll County. She is the point person who guides seniors through the maze of federal, state and local programs designed to help meet their special needs.

The goal is to help them continue living independently, in their own communities.

The staff will help seniors fill out reams of intimidating paperwork. They'll even make house calls if necessary.

The Senior Information and Assistance Program, a state program administered in Carroll by the County Bureau of Aging, marked its 10th anniversary in November.

It offers one-stop shopping for a whole array of help and information for seniors. Seniors can find out about and even sign up for programs such as energy assistance, food stamps, home improvements, special tax credits, and medical and prescription drug assistance.

"In our 10 years we've helped people with everything," Mrs. Passman said.

Mrs. Passman offered the couple with chimney problems $150 toward their flue repairs. The money will come from donations by the Elks club.

The man's Social Security question is a relatively easy one. Mrs. Passman answers it off the top of her head.

The other caller's problem is going to take more time.

In the past year, program staff answered 2,000 requests for information, Mrs. Passman said. In addition, they helped 16 to 18 people a week get help.

Most calls come directly from seniors, she said. Many of the callers have money problems.

"An awful lot of my people only have $660 a month or less to live on," Mrs. Passman said.

She said one of her clients, an elderly woman with an income of $650 a month, was paying $465 a month for rent and utilities. The staff helped her get on a waiting list for subsidized housing.

Over the past year, Mrs. Passman said, the information and assistance program has helped eight Carroll County senior families get indoor plumbing for the first time.

"When somebody has not ever had indoor plumbing, and they're 80 or 90 years old, it's wonderful" to be able to help, Mrs. Passman said. "This is a very, very rewarding job."

Sharon Baker, of the Carroll County Bureau of Aging, supervises the program and speaks glowingly of Mrs. Passman's work.

"She never seems to be too busy to talk to you," she said, adding that Mrs. Passman has great empathy for her clients. Instead of feeling sorry for them, she has an understanding, helpful attitude, Mrs. Baker said.

Mrs. Baker said that, in addition to herself and Mrs. Passman, four people work for the program, including three part-timers.

Mrs. Passman also supervises about 20 volunteers who help with clients and program outreach.

Mrs. Baker said the program had a budget of $45,261 this year, which comes from a combination of state, federal and county money. Program records show that it has saved clients at least $189,000 by directing them to benefits they otherwise might never have received.

Mrs. Baker said there are 17,000 seniors in Carroll County, and the program will be challenged as their numbers rise "dramatically" over the next few years, part of a trend known as the graying of America.

Every year, Mrs. Baker said, staff members wonder if Annapolis is going to come up with the state money needed for the program to continue.

"Even in the best of times," she said, it is susceptible to legislators' whims. But she said its 10-year track record has shown it is a dynamic, useful program.

Mrs. Baker said she is "constantly, forever amazed" by the number of seniors who aren't aware the program exists and can help them.

Mrs. Passman said it makes her feel bad when a person calls for the first time at the age of 80 or more, "and we could have been helping them for 10 years."

Seniors may contact the program at: 848-4049, 875-3342, or 876-3363.

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