Episode 16: A Conversation with Maryland Department of Aging

Amanda Distefano, Manager of the Maryland Department of Aging, joins What’s the 211? podcast to discuss programs and services for seniors and other individuals in Maryland.

Show Notes

1:37 About Maryland Access Point (MAP)

6:03 Aging services

7:17 Impact of the pandemic

10:56 Who they support in addition to seniors

12:05 Senior Call Check

15:05 MDAging texting program for resources

15:58 Support for older adults who experience financial exploitation

18:51 Family caregiver support program

22:58 Durable Medical Equipment

25:10 Staying connected

Transcript

Quinton Askew (1:19)                                                

We are excited and happy to welcome Amanda Distefano, Manager of Maryland Department of Aging. Amanda, how are you?

Amanda Distefano (1:34)

I’m doing well. Thank you for having me today. I’m excited to be here.

About Maryland Access Point (MAP)

Quinton Askew (1:37)

Could you tell us a little bit about your role with the Maryland Department of Aging and what the department provides?

Amanda Distefano (1:43)

I am the No Wrong Door program manager that works in the long-term services division at the Maryland Department of Aging. And what that basically means is that I oversee, and provide technical assistance, training and professional development opportunities to our network of Aging and Disabilities resource centers, also known as Maryland Access Point or MAP here in the state of Maryland.

MAP is a service that’s part of our No Wrong Door system in Maryland. And it’s aimed at streamlining access to long-term services and supports for older adults and those with disabilities in our community.

Quinton Askew (02:17)

That’s great. I love the No Wrong Door, which means that you know, no matter where our older adults are calling, they’ll get the support that they need.

You mentioned MAP, which stands for Maryland Access Point. But what are some of the different supports and services that comes out of the MAP offices?

Amanda Distefano (2:33)

Maryland Access Point or MAP is your one-stop shop, if you will, for long-term services and support. MAP is aimed at addressing the frustration that older adults and people living with disabilities, that our communities and their family members experience when they’re trying to access long-term services and supports or learn about the network of supports that exists in our community. It is a complex and complicated system. And MAP is really here to help people better understand that network and all of the services that are available so that they can make more informed decisions around their long-term care goals and needs.

There are 20 MAP offices embedded in each of our Area Agencies on Aging across our state that serve each of our Maryland counties. Area Agencies on Aging, of course, are designated by the state to address the needs and concerns of all older adults at the local level.

When meeting with a MAP staff person, individuals will take part in initial intake interview to gather information about needs, assess goals, and determine strengths and resources that individuals already have and bring to the table and also explore ways to address any concerns or gaps and services or needs that individuals might have.

And the way that we do that is to conduct some baseline assessments to determine base potential eligibility and a variety of services and supports that can meet an individual’s needs. We work with individuals to make referrals, complete applications and help connect individuals to resources available in their communities.

Quinton Askew (4:05)

That’s great. So it’s really in every jurisdiction as a MAP office that someone can connect with. And so, when we’re older adults are actually contacting the MAP line or calling the office like, what should they expect? What kind of happens when when someone calls the office?

Amanda Distefano (4:19)

So MAP is a person-centered approach that’s aimed at ensuring that Marylanders are able to live safe active, independent lives in their communities for as long as possible when somebody calls a MAP office. Ultimately, they are reaching out to individuals who have been trained or certified in providing the services to connect individuals to community resources and supports. There are a variety of ways that people can connect with MAP offices.

Contact MAP

We do have a toll free number that individuals can reach out through to reach any of our MAP locations. That toll free number is powered by 211 and in partnership with you guys, and it’s called our MAP LINK number.

When somebody calls that number, it’s available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And individuals can get information and assistance over the phone to support addressing their needs.

If an individual is identified as needing additional support or additional assessment, a referral to each of our local offices are made at that point. So you can reach out to the toll free number which is 1-844-627-5465 or 1-844-MAP-LINK and get services 24 hours a day, seven days a week,

If you’re reaching out to one of our local offices directly, there can be sometimes waitlists to get services. So when calling a MAP office, sometimes you are calling in and only being scheduled an appointment, sometimes, we can offer services real-time or at the time of the call. So it’s important to understand that.

So when you call in, you can will schedule an appointment for initial assessment and intake, and then additional follow-up will occur as needed based on the needs that are identified through that initial process.

Older adult services

Quinton Askew (6:03)

We’re appreciative of the partnership that they’re able to call. And so, when is someone considered an older adult? You know, I know we use a different language of senior, and sometimes we say older adult, but in Maryland, and with the Maryland Department of Aging, what particularly is considered as an older adult?

Amanda Distefano (6:25)

That’s a really great question. So this definition often changes based on the program definitions. As an example, senior centers allow individuals to enroll in Senior Centers as an older adult at age 55. Who wants to think at 55 that they’re an older adult, right?

Medicare, on the other hand, says you’re not an older adult eligible for Medicare until you’re 65.

As a general rule, individual 60 years old and above are considered older adults, because that’s the way it’s outlined through the Older Americans Act.

While services are targeted to older adults through the Maryland Access Point, and Maryland Department of Aging, and our Area Agency on Aging network, we also serve disabled individuals who are living in our community as well. So while again, we kind of focus on older adults, and that’s one of our target populations, we also serve individuals living in our community who are living with a disability as well.

Impact of the pandemic on seniors

Quinton Askew (7:17)

And so the pandemic has affected everyone this past year, and hopefully, we’re on a better side of it at this point. How has it affected your office and some of the things that you’ve heard from some of our older adults across the state?

Amanda Distefano (7:31)

COVID has certainly changed the way that all of us live, in the way that we conduct business. As a result, here at the Maryland Department of Aging, we went to a hybrid work schedule. We’re working at points where everybody was working fully remotely. And as we kind of start to return to normal, we’re seeing more people back in the offices and more people working less all the remote schedules and more hybrid schedules.

But as a result of the pandemic, through that process, we’ve learned how to offer a lot of services for individuals virtually, which is something brand new. You know, if we had asked ourselves two years ago, can we provide educational opportunities for older adults virtually, and we probably would have said no or, oh, that would be really difficult. Here we are two years later, post-pandemic being able to do that.

So many of our services and supports that used to be exclusively offered in person face to face are being offered virtually as well.

Most of our MAP offices throughout the pandemic did stay open. Many of them stopped allowing people to come in for face to face visits or, you know, or come in and visit or frequent our senior centers and things of that nature, just to keep everybody safe. That has since stopped and most of our senior centers, most of our Area Agencies on Aging and MAP offices are fully functional and open and once again, allowing face to face visits and interactions and have even returned to offering home visits for people who are unable to get out.

Connecting seniors to food and home care

And the really needed services that exist during the pandemic, as far as older adults and their experience through the whole process. I think ultimately, this is a population that was hit pretty hard. There was a lot of fear around going out to get groceries or even your most basic needs met. There was difficulty in getting care providers to come into your home. You know, providers weren’t always available. And then there was that uncertainty or fear of having somebody from outside of your four walls coming in and bringing in COVID. Family who used to come in and visit regularly had their same kind of hesitations and fears. So ultimately, a lot of older adults experienced much more social isolation.

They had a harder time throughout the pandemic connecting to services and supports and getting providers that come in and provide some of those basic and homecare needs.

And a lot of individuals experienced difficulty getting food. Food resources were a huge need that was identified as part of the pandemic. Of course, the Maryland Department of Aging, in partnership with all of our Area Agencies on Aging, responded to those needs by ramping up services. We provided more in-home delivery for meals and groceries. We reached out regularly to those that we’ve identified as being vulnerable or at risk or have had some pretty significant needs in our community and did friendly check-ins on a regular basis just to make sure that people felt supported and that they were connected. We were able to help meet the needs throughout the pandemic.

Even though our doors may have been closed, we never really stopped serving individuals. Our phones were always ringing, and we were there to answer the calls. We’re really excited that we were able to do that. And as a result, you know, we’ve seen some additional funding that has come alongside and supported some of this work and really been able to build the capacity of our network to serve throughout the pandemic.

Who they support in addition to seniors

Quinton Askew (10:56)

it was definitely great that you’re able to transition so, so quickly. Now, I know the office, you know, it’s called the Maryland Department of Aging, but is that sort of the only population that you serve and provide support to?

Amanda Distefano (11:09)

So I guess that’s another really great question. As I stated before, we have programs that serve individuals other than older adults. Ultimately, we begin aging at birth, right?

Our Area Agencies on Aging oftentimes serve as support planning agencies that meet the needs of really young clients, even babies at times need support from planning agencies, dependent upon the need.

We serve family caregivers who are supporting loved ones of any age.

The Maryland Department of Aging Durable Medical Equipment Program is available to anyone regardless of age and income.

So realistically, even though you’re calling the Department of Aging, we serve so many more than that.  We’re here to serve the state. We are at your service if you have a need and are wanting to plan for the future and look toward understanding the system of services and supports that are available to support individuals in our community. At any age, we are here.

Senior Call Check

Quinton Askew (12:05)

So it was exciting to see how the office has utilized technology to support those across the state. Because I know there are some ways that you really stay connected to Maryland. One of those ways is your Senior Call Check program.

Amanda Distefano (12:19)

What the Senior Call Check program does is it’s a free daily check-in call for Maryland residents who are 65 and older. This is an automated call that’s made daily at a time that’s pre-selected by the participant.

The calls contain an automated message with helpful information and tips and resources related to aging and supporting the needs of older adults, as well as a feature that is checking in on an individual. So you have to respond to say that you’re okay for the day.

How the program really works is that a call is placed. If a person doesn’t answer the call the first time, two additional calls are made within an hour to an individual that has registered for the service. These calls are made every day at that predetermined time. So, I can expect as a participant to receive a call as an example, like 10 AM. If I don’t answer the call at 10, another call will be placed to me within a few minutes. And then again within an hour. If I still do not respond during that pre-selected timeframe, a call can be made or is made to the emergency contact person that I’ve identified as a participant on file.

If our system is unable to get a hold of an emergency contact person, a call is made to emergency services to initiate an emergency wellness check so local authorities can go out and check on the welfare of the individual.

The intent or the aim behind this program is to give people peace of mind and to ensure safety and well-being of older adults who are living alone in our community.

It can be really scary to live alone and not have that support system. And this really kind of helps fill in the gap.

As an additional layer of support for the family caregiver network, you know, to make sure that there is somebody checking in every single day on those who are living alone in our communities. We can ultimately intervene in a situation where let’s say, somebody has had a fall and are unable to get up and get to the phone to make an emergency call. We know that ultimately, through this program, if they are a participant and they are not able to answer the phone, they’re gonna get the help that they need and be connected to medical services.

People can register for the program. It’s simple and easy. You can either call 1-866-50-CHECK or you can visit aging.maryland.gov and complete a form online.

Typically calls start within about 48 hours after registration, and the calls can also be paused. If you have a doctor’s appointment or you’re going out with family or friends, and you know you’re not going to be available to answer the call, and you don’t want an emergency check-in or emergency wellness visit. initiated because you know you’re not going to be home. So, it’s a really great program, and it’s completely free.

MDAging Texting Program for Resources

Quinton Askew (15:05)

So is texting also used by the office?

Amanda Distefano (15:09)

You can receive some of the same alerts and the same type of messaging that you would receive through the Senior Call Check program right on your cell phone. This particular service is also in partnership with you at 211.

How to sign up

Individuals can text MDAging to 898-211. When you do that, you receive alerts, tips and resources related to aging and how to support the needs of older adults directly to your cell phone. These alerts typically come no more than about once a week and can share helpful information or things like you know, hazardous weather that’s forecasted and how to protect yourself.

It’s great and useful information and easy to sign up. You just text MDAging to 898211, right from your cell phones.

Support for Older Adults Who Experience Financial Exploitation

Quinton Askew (15:58)

Yeah, we definitely encourage anyone to sign up with an older daughter, family member, or caregiver. I was reading some statistics lately that stated increasing numbers of our seniors have fallen victim to scams. Does your office get a lot of requests for financial fraud help? And are there any particular services that kind of help support that effort?

Amanda Distefano (16:16)

Our Office specifically does not get a high number of requests for financial fraud help. However, our Area Agencies on Aging at our local Department of Social Services are seeing this happening more frequently.

The Elder Rights Program Manager here at Maryland Department on Aging does get a number of emails or phone calls regarding various types of elder abuse complaints that range from things like neglect to financial exploitation and scams. Ultimately, here at the State, our role is to support the local Area Agencies on Aging who are doing this work in their local communities and work directly with their local Departments of Social Services.

There are lots of services to support older adults who experience financial exploitation. Here at the Department, there is a webpage specifically dedicated to this type of need, and can share additional resources around how to support and recover from this type of exploitation. You can find it by visiting Aging.maryland.gov. There you’ll find information from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the National Adult Protective Services Association, the United States Department of Justice, Elder Abuse, just to name a few. There’s a lot of really wonderful information on our website.

I’d highly encourage anyone who’s looking for more information about any of the services we’re talking about to visit our website.

Each of our Area Agencies on Aging does have a Senior Legal Assistance program that supports older adults living in their community with legal advice and counseling, and representation in some instances. In addition to the legal support.

There’s also our local Ombudsman program that can advocate on behalf of individuals who are living in a skilled nursing facility or an assisted living.

We also have health insurance counselors who can help people navigate potential fraud or abuse against their health insurance, Medicaid, Medicare, or even their private health insurance.

And then we also have Public Guardianship Managers who assist with individuals who are no longer able to make decisions on their own and maybe need to seek assistance with identifying a Public Guardian who can help with that.

Our Area Agencies on Aging do contract with local attorneys and law centers to provide services specifically to older adults living in Maryland, with priority given to issues like income, maintenance, or nutrition, health care, protective services, abuse, housing, utility assistance, consumer protection and employment.

So, there are a lot of different services that are available. And again, I would encourage people to visit our website to learn more,

Family Caregiver Support

Quinton Askew (18:51)

I know we all have taken care of our loved ones, you know, myself included. Whether that’s parents, older adults, those who have been living with us as a caregiver. The Department of Aging has a Family Caregiver Support program. Can you kind of explain what that is? I know, we don’t tend to think of you as caregivers, but because we’re taking care of loved ones. What kind of support does your department have with that?

Amanda Distefano (19:22)

Family caregiving is an extremely hard thing to do. It is a very taxing role. And oftentimes we feel like we are in it alone. We want people to understand that you don’t have to do it alone. There is a network of support out there that can assist you, and we want individuals to get back to being a spouse to a partner or a parent to a child rather than having to be that primary source of care if and when it possible. We do this through a variety of different programs and services.

Each of our Area Agencies on Aging offers caregiver support groups that support family caregivers by bringing people who are doing In this type of work together to share in that experience.

Grandparent support

Same thing with individuals who are raising grandchildren. You know, being a grandparent who’s raising a grandchild brings a whole new different set of challenges to the table. And there are support groups to offer some additional help and support for those individuals.

Those support groups typically have an opportunity for education, learning different services, and providers in the community come to those support groups and provide education. There’s an opportunity to share and learn best practices from each other, what’s working well, what’s not working, and to kind of make this job maybe a little bit easier by lessening the burden and also lessening that feeling of being alone in it. It really does help to identify with others who are in the work and doing the same types of work that you’re doing and having the same challenges.

In addition, to support groups, we also have, through our Maryland Access Point program, the opportunity to connect individuals who are providing family care or support care to a family member connection to community resources.

As a family caregiver, I would encourage you to reach out to the Maryland Access Point offices in your local area to explore the different resources and supports that might exist in your community that can help you get the respite or rest that you really need.

Unless you are taking good care of yourself, you’re not really any good to take care of others. And so, you know, taking the opportunity to get some education to get a little bit of assistance coming in and for leaving. Even if it’s only for an hour or a few hours a day really can help improve your skill because you’re able to take some time and work on yourself.

We can’t pour from an empty cup, right?

In order to learn more about the programs and services and the supports that exists in your community. I highly encourage everybody to reach out to their local MAP offices. In addition to service connection, there’s also opportunities through many of our Senior Centers to engage in educational opportunities.

There are programs that can support caregivers in their role. There’s a program called Powerful Tools for Caregiving.

Another called Building Better Caregivers (Charles County info). A program called Dealing with Dementia that supports individuals who are struggling with dementia and need some support in the home.

So, there are lots of different programs and services available, and Maryland Access Point can help point you in the right direction.

Durable Medical Equipment program

Quinton Askew (22:28)

You made a great point, and you have to take care of yourself while you’re trying to take care of others. In addition to the Family Caregiver Support program, you mentioned earlier Durable Medical Equipment. Who is eligible to receive this type of equipment, and how would someone know to contact or what the need will be?

Amanda Distefano (22:46)

This particular program is an innovative program that’s in direct response to meet identified needs across the state. Many of our Area Agencies on Aging are regularly getting calls from individuals in the community who had durable medical equipment and wanted to donate it or wanted to give it back to the community so that others can use it.

Durable Medical Equipment is not cheap. And we know that oftentimes our Area Agencies on Aging did not have the capacity to be able to inspect, ensure safety and sanitize this type of equipment.

So, the Maryland Department of Aging created the Maryland Durable Medical Equipment Reuse Program. This particular program provides durable medical equipment to Marylanders regardless of illness, regardless of injury or disability and regardless of age at absolutely no cost. The program itself collects used durable medical equipment. It brings it in and ensures that it is fully functional and in good repair. And it has been completely sanitized in the proper way and then puts it back out into the community at redistribution.

There are several redistribution sites across the state. And at distribution, a physical therapist or an occupational therapist is available to ensure that that piece of equipment is properly matched to the individual or the recipient that is getting the equipment.

So, many times and many of our other Loan Closets and things of that nature that exist across the state, there is that hesitation simply because we’re not always sure that the equipment matches the individual specifically.

So, we want to make sure that we’re matching equipment that’s safe for an individual based on their needs, height and weight.That it’s been sanitized, and it’s in good repair before it goes back out. Again, this program is something that’s free for anybody regardless of age, illness, injury or disability.

Quinton Askew (24:41)

That sounds like a lifesaver to be able to get that and not having to pay financially for this particular equipment that could you know could cost. It also takes donations of equipment as well. I heard you say that individuals can also donate to help support others?

Amanda Distefano (24:58)

That is absolutely correct. Yes, so individuals can call reach out to the Maryland Department of Aging at 1-800-243-3425. And to arrange to make a donation to this program.

Staying connected

Quinton Askew (25:10)

That’s great. So, I know we mentioned the website a couple of times where folks can go and find some great valuable information. Also, the texting, which is MDAging to 898211. Are there other social media handles or other ways for listeners to stay connected to the department?

25:27

Absolutely, we are on all of the social media channels. We have Facebook and Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Instagram. So if you’re interested in connecting with us socially, you can follow us at Maryland Aging. So like us at Maryland Aging on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and YouTube, where we have several YouTube videos that kind of explain many of the programs that we talked about in more depth and talk more about eligibility criteria as well. Visit our YouTube page to learn more about the programs we talked about today.

26:01

And that’s for everyone, not just for our seniors, our older adults, but everyone should be connecting and to learn more information. And, closing, is there anything else that you’d like to share with everyone,

Amanda Distefano (26:11)

The Maryland Department of Aging is really here to help change the trajectory of aging by changing the way that we think about aging in our community if you want to learn more about how we can help you live a more engaged, active, independent life in your community for as long as possible. We’re here to help you come visit us on the web to learn more Aging.Maryland.gov or call us at 1-844-627-5465 to connect with one of your local map offices and get connected to a full range of network of long-term services and supports that exist.

Quinton Askew (26:46)

I definitely encourage everyone to take a look at the site sign up for the texting. It’s a wealth of information and support for older adults and really just anyone in the community. Amanda, thank you again for joining us. It was a pleasure to have you, and definitely look forward to the continued partnership with 211.


What’s the 211 podcast was produced with the support of Dragon Digital Radio, at Howard Community College. 


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