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Celebrating 45 years of service to seniors in poverty

Serving Seniors, one of San Diego’s cornerstone nonprofit organizations, is celebrating 45 years of helping low-income seniors live healthy and independent lives.

We opened our doors in 1970 with a single program: serving meals to downtown seniors. By the 1980s, we recognized critical needs were not being addressed and began providing outreach, transportation, case management and referral services to our clients to help them live independently.

This responsiveness functioned as a template for our current service model, which was designed to provide a full spectrum of services to meet the wellness needs of more than 5,000 seniors annually. Our Homeless Prevention Program, which finds permanent, affordable housing for homeless seniors, was added in 2002.

The Gary and Mary West Senior Wellness Center opened in 2010 as an innovative, integrated solution to promoting independence and healthy living for seniors, and remains the flagship of our organization.

Through the Wellness Center, we offer hot meals daily, access to on-site health professionals including nurses, social services management, community activities and classes. The center was over-built with the specific purpose of allowing enough space for our 25 collaborative partners to provide services on-site to expand and strengthen our multidisciplinary approach to senior wellness.

The average monthly income of our clients is $850 a month, less than half of what the Elder Index estimates is needed to ensure basic needs are met for a senior living in San Diego.

Our model takes into account both daily and long-term essentials for living a healthy, independent life and recognizes that ease of access is a critical component in our program delivery. Together, with our collaborative partners, we provide a holistic approach to wellbeing.

Since Serving Seniors’ inception, our nutrition program has been the foundation of our service offerings. The number of food insecure seniors is at critical levels in the United States, and is expected to increase 50 percent by 2025, making access to nutritious, daily meals of utmost importance.

We also recognize good nutrition is integral to reducing the number of necessary medical interventions and overall cost of care. We will serve more than 582,000 meals this year throughout the County.

Serving Seniors’ case managers assist clients in accessing available government benefits, arranging and coordinating transportation, scheduling medical appointments, and aiding in conflict resolution. For our seniors, many of whom are without familial support and live in isolation, the security of having a dependable advocate can be life-changing.

Our nurses promote healthy aging through chronic disease management, health screenings and assessments, navigation of the health care system, weight management, nutrition education, blood pressure checks and follow-up care.

They are also health care advocates on behalf of our clients and collaborate with other service providers to ensure the highest quality care for the seniors. Serving Seniors also enjoys a close partnership with Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital which outstations psychiatric nurses and psychiatrists to help seniors address their emotional and mental health needs.

One of the largest impediments for San Diego seniors to live a healthy, independent life is the lack of affordable housing, which is in its 12th year of an affordable-housing state of emergency. Serving Seniors addressed this need by opening our 200-unit Potiker Senior Residence in the East Village in 2003 and our Potiker City Heights Residence, with its 150 low-cost units.

Both buildings are walking distance from public transportation, pharmacies, churches, supermarkets, shopping centers and eateries. In keeping with our signature model of wraparound, easily-accessible services, each building also provides supportive housing services that include nutritious meals daily, socialization opportunities, mental health and group counseling, access to a registered nurse, and social service case management.

Serving Seniors Homeless Prevention Program focuses on transitioning homeless seniors into affordable, permanent housing and providing them with the tools necessary for long-term success. We master-lease 16 units in a single-room occupancy (SRO) hotel.

With the assistance of a dedicated case manager, each participant develops a plan that includes gaining access to benefits, devising a savings plan and addressing any medical concerns that may create barriers to successful, independent living.

Since the programs creation, more than 1,000 seniors have successfully entered long-term, affordable housing and 82,618 bed nights have been provided to participants.

So what do the next 45 years look like for Serving Seniors? It all will be about providing high-quality programs and services that keep seniors healthy and independent. Our scope of services will need to expand dramatically to keep pace with the demographic growth of seniors in the United States.

All of this could not have been possible without the generous support of the San Diego community. You are generous beyond belief. Thank you on behalf of the tens of thousands of seniors who have been helped over the past 45 years.

Downey is president and CEO of Serving Seniors, a nonprofit agency dedicated to increasing the quality of life for San Diego seniors living in poverty for 45 years. Learn more at www.servingseniors.org.

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