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The Future of Congregate Meal Programs in the Pandemic Era

The problem is a simple one.

The solution is not.

We understand the social, mental and emotional importance of Congregate Meal Programs, but how do we balance that with COVID-19 social distancing requirements and recommendations? ASA has convened a roundtable to study this issue and to produce functional, practical workplans for congregate meal programs in the pandemic era.

As we move to models that increase social isolation, how can we help to build effective solutions that advance the positive effects of socializing? As a key convener in the aging space, ASA is working with SAGE to bring together more than a dozen national thought leaders and expert practitioners to approach this challenge from all directions and achieve three main objectives to create a functional future for providing congregate meal services in the pandemic era—one that is anchored in research.

 

Our objectives include:

  • provide practical crisis-response guidance for congregate meal providers that will include a white paper summarizing case studies, tactics and recommendations for congregate meals in times of crisis;
  • elevate the importance of social connectedness as an outcome of congregate meal services;
  • build audiences that include traditional funders, traditional providers, new/nontraditional providers and vendors, who support and engage in congregate meal programs to fight social isolation.

 

ASA offers a unique ability to help bring together the thought leadership, but also to effectively share the results with a large audience that will be able to drive implementation across the country. As we continue to face the impacts of COVID-19, and we transition from emergency response, it is up to us to help develop long-term strategies of care that encompass far more than just Congregate Meal Programs.

However, this is a particularly important place to start. Participants in Congregate Meal Programs are almost half as likely to visit the ER and end up in the hospital. Eighty percent of them show improvements in diet quality. Interestingly, only 54 percent of them use programs like these for more than 50 percent of their food, but rather focus on their increased social opportunities that are a part of healthy aging.

One 2018 study by the Administration for Community Living showed that participants experience lower blood pressure and fewer dementia symptoms. Now more than ever, keeping older adults healthy and out of the medical system is an imperative part of balancing resources, protecting older adults’ health and ensuring a higher quality of life for all older adults. We cannot allow ourselves to be so busy “protecting” older adults that we cut the services that protect them.