The slow reopening of the Bayfield senior center after its closure during the COVID-19 pandemic has some seniors saying their needs are not being met by town officials.
Several seniors have shared their concerns about the termination of the Pine River Senior Center coordinator and the lack of programs at the center. The town has responded to several requests made by the seniors, but it will take time to return to pre-pandemic programming, said Mayor Ashleigh Tarkington.
“There’s a lot of things we can’t just make happen overnight. But we hear them, and we’re definitely working on it,” Tarkington said in an interview Wednesday.
The senior center offers community gathering events for senior citizens in the Pine River Valley. It is one of the only places designated for senior activities in the Bayfield area.
Several seniors expressed their concerns about the lack of services during a tense discussion at the Bayfield town board meeting Tuesday.
One of the top concerns for the seniors group was the lack of a coordinator for the center, said Phyllis Ludwig, a Bayfield resident and member of the senior center, in an interview Wednesday.
For years, a former town employee, Brenda Jones, held the position – until June. She taught the arts and crafts class, answered questions for community members and visitors, set up programs, updated the small library and even helped with medical issues at times, Ludwig said.
“We want to get the center back to what it was before COVID – the same hours, the same days, the same service we had before,” she said.
Jones was terminated for reasons that are unrelated to the senior center’s management, Tarkington said, declining to comment further about the matter.
The town cannot justify hiring a full-time staff person to coordinate center events at this time, but it will revisit the full-time position as the senior center programs grow, Tarkington said.
“We were still, just until recently, under all kinds of county restrictions because of COVID,” she said. “We’re slowly getting back to where we can start planning some programs for them and doing congregate meals.”
So far, the senior center hours have been restored, she said. In-person lunches, instead of box lunches, also resumed after county restrictions were lifted in June.
Ludwig said other improvements have helped. After seniors mentioned Tuesday the building had not been cleaned for months during the pandemic, the town cleaned it Wednesday. The town’s economic community engagement coordinator, Beth Lamberson, has visited several times to help seniors, she said.
While some aspects of the center’s management fall on the town of Bayfield and La Plata County, as outlined in an intergovernmental agreement, the center’s board of directors also has responsibility for managing the center, Tarkington said.
“We are fulfilling every aspect the town is responsible for through the IGA (intergovernmental agreement),” she said.
The town is working to help organize senior fitness classes and health-related events, she said.
She plans to talk about additional funding for the center with La Plata County commissioners on July 19, Tarkington said.
“My No. 1 thing is: I don’t want them to sit here and think we don’t care and we’re not listening. We heard them, and we talked about it,” she said. “They definitely have to meet us halfway on some of their events, and if they need help with that, call me.”