Senior citizens and adults with disabilities in Carroll can look to the county's Bureau of Aging and Disabilities when they have a problem and don't know what to do.
"We provide a lot of information on housing, energy assistance, transportation, tax credits for homeowners and renters, caregiver support, prescription assistance and Legal Aid," said Kathy Wood, Information and Assistance program specialist with the Bureau of Aging and Disabilities.
Wood said one of the things she frequently hears from those she talks with is, "I didn't know these programs existed."
According to Wood, finances are a challenge seniors frequently tackle. "We look at what their income is and go down a list of available programs to see where we can help them apply for programs they may be eligible for. You not only have to complete the application, but there's certain documentation that needs to go along with the application and if you don't provide that with the application it delays the benefits they are applying for," she said.
"If people are having issues where they are renting we refer them to other organizations such as [Maryland] Legal Aid or Baltimore Neighborhoods Inc., where they can find answers to questions they may have about what their rights are," Wood said. "We also provide a list of agencies for in-home care that serves the Carroll County area," she said.
"Sometimes people are suffering with mental health issues, so we try to get them the information on counseling in the area," Wood said.
Wood visits four county senior and activities centers once a month to meet with seniors who have questions or concerns. Because the Westminster Senior and Community Center adjoins the Bureau of Aging and Disabilities office, those who use that center are encouraged to make an appointment or drop in.
Information and Assistance Supervisor Debbie Frame sometimes visits county centers too, Wood said.
Frame said people may bring questionable mail to them — not knowing if it is something they need to address or a scam. But "most of the questions we get are a care-giving kind of thing," Frame said, "or someone who wants to stay in their home but needs help."
According to Frame, the Bureau of Aging and Disabilities works closely with the Department of Social Services and the Health Department.
"The most frustrating part of our job is that sometimes the problem at hand cannot be fixed," Frame said. "We may pursue every avenue and there is just no answer. However, as we speak with folks, we may find that we can help with another challenge they may be facing."
Frame spoke of a woman Wood talked to not long ago. She had stopped driving and canceled her insurance without turning in her tags. As a result, the Motor Vehicle Administration billed her. "She got a bill for 15 or 16 hundred dollars because she still had her tags but no insurance. Kathy made calls to the MVA and she only had to pay $250. Kathy got it reduced that much," Frame said.
"Debbie and I help [also] with the prescription part of Medicare, Part D," Wood said. Tina Herrero-Backe, program specialist and coordinator for the State Health Insurance Assistance Program in Carroll, handles the majority of supplemental-insurance inquiries, Wood said, "but because Debbie and I started with the prescription part of Medicare, we are able to help Tina out with that too."
When meeting with staff from the Bureau of Aging and Disabilities, a client may need to bring documentation necessary to apply for aid. "We ask for the electric bill and or the oil bill for energy," Wood said. "If we are helping them apply for food stamps, we need any paid medical expenses for the last 90 days," she said. "It adjusts their income down and helps them to qualify for more benefits. Also their rent or mortgage, utilities, all those costs are shelter costs and they are looked at to bring their income down and make them eligible."
Those looking for housing information can pick up lists of housing in their area. Wood may "talk to them about applying for a HUD [Housing and Urban Development] voucher to help bring the rent down to 30 percent of their income," she said.
"If we are going to be doing applications we suggest an appointment," Wood said, "but if they are just looking for information, dropping in without an appointment is OK."
Clients make appointments on days Wood visits the senior centers, but she also walks around to talk to people and has helped clients on the spot.
"The Bureau of Aging has always been very helpful," said senior citizen Mary Owens, who met with Wood at the North Carroll Senior and Community Center on Aug. 27.
"She is very, very good," Owens said of Wood. "She gets things done."
Wood said there is no charge for their service. "Our funds come from federal, state and county dollars. I always say, this is your tax dollars at work," she said.
"I believe that we are helpful for a lot of people, helping them to make ends meet," Wood said. "They may not be aware of what programs are out there or they may get overwhelmed by the paperwork, but we can help. I have a lot of people come in and say, 'I just don't understand this.' We take things step by step and then it doesn't seem so overwhelming anymore."
For more information
An Information and Assistance program specialist will visit the following senior centers in Carroll County, with appointments starting at 10 a.m.
Call Kathy Wood at 410-386-3800 to make an appointment to meet at a center on one of the dates below or at the Bureau of Aging and Disabilities:
Sept. 10 — Mount Airy Senior and Community Center, 703 Ridge Ave., Mount Airy.
Sept. 18 — Taneytown Senior and Community Center, 220 Roberts Mill Road, Taneytown.
Sept. 24 — North Carroll Senior and Community Center, 2328 Hanover Pike, Greenmount.
Oct. 2 — South Carroll Senior and Community Center, 5928 Mineral Hill Road, Eldersburg.
The Carroll County Bureau of Aging and Disabilities and the Westminster Senior and Community Center are at 125 Stoner Ave., Westminster.