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Meal and transportation access, senior center top survey response requests

The survey was conducted with the help of Jesse Heer, a graduate student in University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Social Work

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Cambridge-area seniors would like better access to meal and transportation programs and their wish list includes a local directory of services and a senior center building, according to nearly 200 responses to recent survey.

Respondents also said they could use more access to handyman and house cleaning services, need affordable housing and caregiver respite services and would like to see a local warm water therapy pool in Cambridge.

With the help of volunteers that fanned out to the library, churches, assisted living homes and other sites, more than 700 paper copies of the survey were distributed beginning in November to seniors who live in the Cambridge School District. It was also shared online, including on social media, with an option to complete it online.

The Cambridge Area Senior Resource Network, co-chaired by Dane County Board member Kate McGinnity and Jefferson County Board member Laura Payne, was behind the effort with other local representation. The grassroots senior resource network formed in 2019 in response to concerns about continuing senior meals in Cambridge and went on to focus this past year on two goals: publishing a resource directory and completing the survey.

The survey was conducted with the help of Jesse Heer, a graduate student in University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Social Work.

In an interview this week, Heer said he was pleased with the response. He said it likely represents up to 275 people, as many married couples jointly filled out one survey.

In all, Heer said, U.S. Census data shows that about 1,400 individuals age 60 and over live in the Cambridge school district.

Senior resource metwork member Bob Salov, who is also director of the Cambridge Area EMS and a former Dane County Board member, agreed that the response was a “good sampling,” and many volunteers were responsible to disseminating those.

“We worked very hard during COVID to get this out to people,” Salov said.

Salov said he is concerned that some rural residents may have been missed but said “we tried the best we could. We visited a lot of people personally to bring them a survey.”

Heer said respondents varied widely by age, from 55 to over 90.

Salov said copies of Heer’s report on the survey results will be distributed in the Cambridge area starting this week. They’ll be at the Cambridge library and at municipal clerks offices and area banks, and on the library and other websites.

“We’re so pleased it’s finally done, and that we finally have a document that we can share with the public,” Salov said.

In a joint statement, McGinnity and Payne thanked the Cambridge Foundation for its donation and also thanked Heer for his work. They said the completion of the survey allows the senior resource network “to move forward on our next steps,” and to set future priorities.

“We know one top priority is a creating a resource directory of services for seniors/older adults,” the statement said. Work on that is “well underway,” McGinnity and Payne said.

”As we move forward and identify priorities, we will undoubtably be recruiting a larger base of involved citizens. Please stay tuned and consider joining us as we work together to maintain and expand on the services in our area for folks 55 and older,” Payne and McGinnity added.

Transportation accessHeer said the desire for improved access to transportation “was a big takeaway,” that he noted is already on Dane County’s radar.

Ten percent of survey respondents said they don’t have access to consistent, reliable transportation.

“We have a lot of interest in this on the Dane County Board. This kind of reinforced what the board and many people already know. It was good to see it represented in the survey data,” Heer said.

Many respondents appeared surprised that low-cost transportation services exist for seniors, suggesting that more effort is needed to build awareness of that, Heer noted.

He recently shared the survey results with Dane County Area Agency on Aging staff and this week will present them at a meeting of Dane County’s Specialized Transportation Committee.

”In addition to informing our local priorities and decisions, Jesse’s data has also been useful in a more generalized manner, throughout the county,” McGinnity said.

Other requests Other needs were illuminated, too, by survey responses.

“We got a lot of requests for some sort of directory and we got a lot of requests for more exercise options, and it seemed like a lot of that was centered around having a senior center that can house these services,” Heer continued. “Far and away, their first request was for a senior center.”

Heer said the responses were generally positive.

“We got more positive than negative feedback,” Heer said. “And when they did have negative things to say it was often something like ‘I didn’t know that existed.’”

Among the survey results:

• 19 percent of respondents said there is a need for a printed resource directory listing local services for seniors. The senior resource network wrapping up work on such a directory, and expects to soon distribute it in the Cambridge community with the help of a $3,200 grant from the Cambridge Foundation that covered printing.

• 8 percent of respondents said they don’t have consistent access to three nutritious meals a day. Most said difficulty preparing meals contributes to that. Heer said some of this appears due to lack of awareness of existing meal programs. “It’s just a matter of getting people to utilize them,” he said.

• 18 percent of respondents said they don’t have consistent access to high speed internet, something “rural community in general struggle with,” Heer said.

• Local programs that received high marks from Cambridge seniors, some of which are paused currently due to COVID-19, include free monthly community café meals, the Cambridge library, CAP lunch programs, the Cambridge Area EMS and exercise programs

• More affordable housing is needed in the Cambridge area, seniors said. They ranked that in their top 4 requests, after the senior center, handyman services, and the warm water therapy pool.

• About 55 percent of respondents live with a spouse or partner, while 26 percent live alone with no caretaker. The rest live with their children or have full or part-time care. More than 75 percent still own their own home.

• 84 percent said they have at least one special need, and 28 percent said they have mobility issues. Aligned with that, respondents said they’d like more access to fall prevention programming. Salov said this is a well-known need, as Cambridge has the highest per-capita fall rate in Dane County. “We have a lot of falls in this community and a lot of requests here for fall prevention services,” Salov said. “People do get hurt, and we need to do something about this.”

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