NARCOG focuses on quality of life for seniors

By Michael Wetzel | Living 50 Plus

Senior citizens in Morgan, Lawrence and Cullman counties don’t have to look far for free legal services, answers to Medicare questions, transportation assistance, prescription drug discounts and meals.

The North Central Alabama Regional Council of Governments, NARCOG for short, utilizes state and federal money to provide those programs.

Probably the most popular service NARCOG provides is through its Area Agency on Aging’s nutrition program. The program distributed 51,089 hot congregate meals, 130,811 home-delivered meals and 70,735 frozen home delivered meals from Oct. 1, 2020, to Aug. 31, 2021. That is 252,635 meals served in the three-county area in 11 months. Volunteers and staff members make the deliveries throughout the week.

At Turner-Surles Community Center in Decatur, for example, food prepared in Trinity is brought in each weekday. Some of the food is served to clients at the center. Other food is packed each weekday beginning at 9:30 a.m. onto individual plates for delivery to homebound seniors.

“We want our food to go out no later than 10 (a.m.) so it’s warm but it’s not too early,” said Carol Rea, the nutrition site manager at Turner-Surles who works for Morgan County’s Commission on Aging.

NARCOG serves as a clearinghouse to provide seniors with information on programs available to them.

“When it comes to Medicare programs, most seniors don’t know that our (State Health Insurance Assistance Program, or SHIP) has unbiased counselors who help them select which programs are most effective for them individually,” said NARCOG spokesman Justin Graves.

Graves said that during the open enrollment period from Oct. 15 to Dec. 7 last year, SHIP counselors in Morgan, Lawrence and Cullman counties served 1,938 individuals in person and over the phone. “The estimated monetary value saved was nearly $1.25 million,” he said. “These savings allow seniors to use their money for other needs they may have.”

NARCOG’s Aging and Disability Resource Center partners with area farmers markets to offer another food program. It allows residents 60 and older to receive vouchers for $30 worth of fresh fruit and vegetables at their local participating farmers market. Graves said the Morgan County-Decatur Farmers Market is a partner in the program.

“This is a very popular program with our seniors, and our phones are staying busy signing people up,” he said. “Not only does it help local seniors, but it puts money in the pocketbooks of the local farmers selling at the markets.”

The program is income based and the number of vouchers is limited. For more information, seniors can call the NARCOG office at 256-355-4515.

Other services

NARCOG recently hired a full-time attorney to provide simple legal services to seniors at no cost.

“It focuses on wills, powers of attorney, elder abuse, fraud and housing,” Graves said. “We don’t handle any criminal cases.”

Another Area Agency on Aging program is the Alabama Ombudsman, which monitors long-term care facilities such as nursing homes and assisted-living homes. “The ombudsman ensures the seniors’ rights are protected and that they are properly cared for in these facilities,” Graves said.

NARCOG works with the state Medicare patrol to prevent scams that could adversely affect seniors. The Alabama Cares program provides resources to caregivers through NARCOG, also.

Graves said the senior discount prescription drug program remains popular. He said seniors can receive prescription medicine at lower costs if they sign up for the program.

For seniors wishing to continue to work, the Senior Community Service Employment Program is a community service and work-based training program for older workers that provides useful services and “fosters individual economic self-sufficiency through training and placement into unsubscribed jobs.” Graves said participants in the program work an average of 20 hours a week.

Foundation grants

The NARCOG Foundation assists seniors in having handicapped accessibility products in their houses.

“In today’s market, the costs can exceed $40,000 to have wheelchair ramps, grab bars installed in hallways and in the bathroom,” Graves said.

NARCOG Executive Director Robby Cantrell said the agency is always looking for funds for the program.

“Unfortunately, typical grant funds are not available to help families retrofit a home for handicapped accessibility,” he said. “But I would like to get to a point where we could use the NARCOG Foundation to help families who need these types of renovations.”

Cantrell said the foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that aids older adult and disabled clients to meet the unmet needs of other programs and services.

“One hundred percent of the funds donated are used for client assistance,” he said.

Cantrell said a Hartselle man diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, was able to take advantage of the handicap accessibility funds. He said a safe room was added inside the man’s residence.

Morgan County Commission Chairman Ray Long said the commission’s partnership with NARCOG enhances the quality of life of everyone in Morgan County.

“They provide transportation for seniors to make doctor’s appointments,” he said. “We have been in the middle of a serious pandemic for nearly two years. But these individuals still have medical appointments and dialysis routines to attend. NARCOG provides a valuable service across the county.”

NARCOG and the county’s senior centers work hand-in-hand to provide transportation and meals to the seniors.

Eight Morgan senior centers served by both agencies are Eva Nutrition Center, 3824 Eva Road; Falkville Nutrition Center, 1076 Culver Road; Hartselle Nutrition Center, 406 Nance Ford Road; Lacey’s Spring Nutrition Center, 10139 Alabama 36 E.; Union Hill Nutrition Center, 11 Union Hill Loop Road; Neel Nutrition Center, 6950 Danville Road; Somerville Nutrition Center, 16 Senior Lane; and Turner-Surles Community Center, 702 Sycamore St., Decatur.

Seniors needing service are encouraged to call 256-355-4515 or visit the NARCOG office at 216 Jackson St. S.E., Decatur.