Breaking Ground 104 - TN Commission on Aging and Disability: Meeting Needs in a Pandemic

By Jim Shulman, Executive Director, Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability

Tennesseans have witnessed a swift, strong, and kind response to the unprecedented challenge of the pandemic.

Overnight, the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability (TCAD) created new programs to serve the state’s older citizens. Like a barn raising, it did so with the selfless support of its partners, neighborhoods, and volunteers who showed up with their tools and good cheer to serve those in need.

For instance, a small business support effort linked emergency federal funding with a group of 100 local restaurants in towns across the state. The restaurants needed the business, and thousands of older adults needed the meals. 

In a few short weeks, TCAD saw the number of meals provided to older Tennesseans climb from 8,000 a day to more than 14,000.

New policies and trainings, matched with recruiting plans and background screenings, produced a Care Through Conversations program. The program put volunteer callers in touch with people at home alone. 

Often those conversations were about the essentials: Do you have enough food? Do you need anything from your doctor? The pharmacy?

Other times, those phone calls were about something equally essential. People missed seeing their friends. Their barbers. Their fellow worshippers. 

The phone calls were lifesavers.

And while the TCAD pandemic response heartened thousands, it continues to be a challenge. Federal, state, and local officials work every day to overcome the disease and all of the disruptions and heartache that come with it.

For instance, how should Tennessee reopen its senior citizens centers, closed to keep the coronavirus at bay? Although TCAD does not control the centers’ operations, the questions for advice and guidance continue to arrive.

On behalf of the state’s oldest citizens, TCAD is determined to stay at the center of those non-stop conversations — and to get the job done.