As coronavirus pandemic eases, Petaluma reflects on its way forward
“The age is getting younger and younger; Young people aged 10, 12, 14 and 16 are having thoughts of suicide and having to go to our emergency rooms because of mental health crises, ”said Thomas.
As hospitals scrambled to prepare for a possible coronavirus outbreak last spring, reverberations of the pandemic’s impact, including the county’s first shelter-in-place order, have reached all communities.
At the Petaluma People Services Center, which is the center of assistance for some of Petaluma’s most vulnerable residents, the unprecedented shutdown from daily life meant there was more work to be done – and quickly.
“We spent many years discussing how we were going to have to make the transition from our Meals on Wheels routing system to an electronic routing system, and we did it overnight,” said Elece Hempel, executive director of the agency. “It was 24 hours of five employees who focused on this transition, so we didn’t miss a day of meal delivery.”
People 65 and older account for over 80% of COVID-19 deaths in the United States, increasing pressure on agencies like Petaluma People Services Center to expand their outreach efforts and serve more people who could no longer risking running to grocery stores every day.
The center went from 2,000 meals a month to 10,000 at the height of the pandemic. And for the larger trips, the Petaluma People Services Center again showed up to offer rides, although most of the volunteer drivers were seniors themselves.
“During the pandemic, we really had to pivot and think about how we were going to provide these services safely,” Hempel said. “We had to change a lot of things on the fly.”
In the final months of summer 2020, when the coronavirus continued to ravage the county and our nation, Hempel said officials began to see and hear of physical and cognitive declines. Loneliness weighed heavily on the elderly, Hempel said.
For example, Petaluma People’s Services opened a volunteer phone bank to make daily calls. Since around 70 older adults regularly attend in-person meals at the center, Hempel said officials estimate around 70 calls are needed per day. Volunteers now make 3,000 calls a day – across the county.
“The number of people able to survive COVID because of this is incredible,” Hempel said. “We probably still get four inquiries a day from seniors who would like to receive a phone call from someone. Some still look forward to this call every day. “
The pandemic, Hempel said, has revealed unmet needs in various areas, including for the elderly. And it will force officials in cities, counties, states and the federal government to consider how they are dealing with our aging population.
Hempel praised Petaluma on its vow in 2019 to become an “age-friendly” city, but warned that this has to be an ongoing effort – for municipalities around the world.
“You can’t just say, ‘We’re going to be senior friends,’” Hempel said. “I think one of the lessons learned is that there are pockets of people 60 and over who don’t necessarily access senior services, but they need to be connected in such a way that when they have need help, we need to understand how to provide these services. “
Hempel has become well-versed in crisis and disaster management, moving from helping with forest fire evacuation to homelessness services to oversee her organization’s response to elder abuse.
After months of responding to the massive fallout from the pandemic and the economic downturn, Hempel said what keeps her awake at night these days is what she doesn’t yet know.
“Asking for help is really, really difficult, and I worry about what’s going on behind closed doors,” she said. “The impact of COVID was not just on people living in poverty, it has affected everyone, especially when it comes to housing. This is why we currently have 600 requests for rental assistance. “
In a city already plagued by a high cost of living and too few housing units to meet demand, the economic devastation of the pandemic has added a new layer of complexity – and urgency – to efforts to mitigate the disease. housing instability.
Dave Alden, an engineer from Petaluma who heads an urban growth group, said he noticed that while the Petalumans were hit by job losses and an economic crisis, housing costs continued to skyrocket. In Sonoma County, home prices rose 12% between the first quarter of 2020 and the first quarter of this year, according to a Compass Real Estate Bay Area market report released this month.
This report shows that median house prices on the west side of Petaluma have reached $ 945,000, with prices reaching $ 745,000 on the eastern half of the city.
The trend extends beyond Sonoma County. Statewide, the median the price for a single-family home hit $ 758,990 last month, an increase of nearly 6% since December and a jump of 24% since March 2020, according to the California Department of Finance.