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Bethel College studies Dowagiac, sees needs for more for … seniors!

Published 8:38am Tuesday, April 27, 2010

By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News

A community assessment conducted by Bethel College nursing students concludes Dowagiac needs to continue promoting programs for senior and establish a free-standing senior center.

Many communities offer a senior center that is highly visible to senior citizens, which offers them a place to eat together, socialize, attend educational programs, take organized bus trips and participate in exercise and other programs.

These programs would assist in keeping seniors healthy and socially activities and ultimately increase quality of life for the 15.4 percent who are older than 65.

The 10.6 percent of Dowagiac residents who are widowed suggests a risk for social isolation and less than adequate food intake – “food insecurity” – among senior citizens.

Cass County Council on Aging Executive Director Robert Cochrane attended the council meeting to respond to Bethel’s study.

“The finding from the study on community services presented by Bethel College students to the Dowagiac City Council confirms what we at the Cass COA have recognized for years,” Cochrane stated. “Specifically, there is an ongoing and increasing need for services and programs centered in Dowagiac to serve our senior population.”

First, Cochrane said, “We wish to emphasize that the COA offers key survival services available to all seniors living throughout Cass County. These services include Meals on Wheels, Home Care, Respite Care, Medical Transportation and Adult Day Services. With the exception of Adult Day Services, these services are not limited to a single location.”

Second, “Since 1994, the Cass County Council on Aging has offered additional programming for the convenience of seniors in the City of Dowagiac. Over the years, this programming has been held at a variety of locations, including Dowagiac Elks, Apostolic Lighthouse, Federated Church, Chestnut Towers, Lincoln Center (now Encore School for the Performing Arts) and presently at First United Methodist Church, 326 N. Lowe St.
“Currently,” Cochrane continued, “we offer the following senior programs in Dowagiac (at First United Methodist Church unless noted otherwise):

• Congregate meals – Mondays and Wednesdays at the church and five days a week at Chestnut Towers, which is locked and not available to the general public.

• Vim and Vigor aerobics – Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

• SEAT – Sit, Exercise and Tone fitness – Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

• Aqua Aerobics – Tuesdays and Thursdays at Baymont Inn’s pool.

• Brain Aerobics – the second Tuesday of each month.

• Bingo – Mondays and Wednesdays at 1 p.m.

In fiscal year 2009, the COA served almost 3,900 congregate meals in Dowagiac.

Aggregate attendance at exercise classes exceeded 3,600. And bingo drew more than 2,500 participants over the year.

“Our biggest ongoing challenge to providing services in Dowagiac has been in securing sufficient multi-use space to accommodate these programs on a cost-effective, long-term basis,” Cochrane says. “The COA and its board of directors are committed to providing senior services within the City of Dowagiac. The study of options is ongoing and is an integral part of the COA’s strategic plan as demand for these services continues to grow.”
Bethel’s study was undertaken by registered nurses Michella Bethea-Jones, Lisa Bryant, Laura Crossman, Lucie Masarira, Barbara Miller, Michael Rushlow, Erin Russell, Courtney Still, Ollie Tate, Angela Wright and Tidings Manungo, their spokesman who made the presentation.

Louise Solak, RN, MSN, instructs the semester class in community health nursing. They left a huge binder of data upon which they based their findings with the council.

Bethel undertook a January-April “windshield survey” driving around the community, augmented with a survey of 55 residents about eight aspects.

Each was asked to identify four factors they believe are essential for a healthy community: 64 percent, low crime and safe neighborhoods; 50 percent, good schools; 50 percent, a good place to raise children; 45 percent, good jobs and a healthy economy.

On the flip side, Bethel queried for four areas of concern: 66 percent, high unemployment; 40 percent, drug abuse; 35 percent, cigarette smoking; 31 percent, teen pregnancy; and 31 percent, poverty.

The researchers also brought out three risky behaviors that threaten the community: 56 percent, drug abuse; 51 percent, alcohol abuse; and 35 percent, drunk driving.
Asked to assess the health of the community, 20 percent consider it somewhat unhealthy, 64 percent unhealthy and 16 percent, healthy.

Strengths respondents named under health and social services include Borgess-Lee Memorial Hospital, a Medicaid-designated facility with 25 beds, including five for critical care; affiliated Borgess Lee Medical Group; Van Buren and Cass County Health Department; Cass County Council on Aging; Forest Glen Assisted Living; and soon, The Timbers of Cass County nursing care.

Improvements are needed in the number of primary care physicians, no obstetrician/maternity service and the lack of a senior center.

Educational strengths are seen as early education programs such as Head Start and Inside Track, various sports for male and female students, programs such as hall walking and gold card discounts, Southwestern Michigan College and performing arts, school clubs and special education.

There is only one school nurse for all of the students. Not all parents have Internet access.
Dowagiac has a new fire station, but its crime rate is higher than state and national averages.

Local streets are deteriorating, pedestrian paths are incomplete and the city lacks bike routes.

There is a local newspaper, the Daily News, and a radio station, WDOW. Some Web sites are not updated frequently enough.

Economically, there are strong business groups, such as the Greater Dowagiac Chamber of Commerce.
There is a commercial center and an industrial park with five acres ready to develop.
Dowagiac enjoys a lower cost of living, but unemployment of 10.7 percent versus 8.5 percent nationally. Home sales have declined.

Utilities cost 5 percent more than U.S. averages. High poverty levels saddle Dowagiac – 23.6 percent vs. 14 percent nationally.

“You have a wide selection of restaurants,” Manungo said. “I can attest to that because I ate at some.”

Strengths Bethel identified also include excellent parks and Rudolphi wildlife refuge, Beckwith Theatre, summer concerts, Dogwood Fine Arts Festival, cultural programs at SMC, a variety of public and private schools, an unusual number of golf courses, community and economic development incentives, a city government which encourages community involvement, proximity to major highways, an overall well-managed city, public transportation and police, fire and ambulance services.

“There are potholes left from the winter that need repair,” he said. “Areas of standing water become breeding grounds for bacteria. You do need to increase indoor recreational opportunities for youth and seniors, like having a community center and senior center, and a movie theater for youth and adults.”

“In summary,” Manungo said, “Dowagiac is a very nice town, with many features. We enjoyed the time we spent riding through and observing your city, interacting with your people and learning about the services the city provides its residents. You have much to be proud of.”

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