When the county convened one of its periodic forums to hear the concerns of senior citizens, only 22 showed up at the Pascal Senior Center auditorium built to hold 186.
The sparse attendance at the Glen Burnie center seemed to illustrate a point raised repeatedly by the people who did attend: The county has not been effective at getting the word to seniors about events and services.
"We've always had a problem," said Ed Thomas, president of Pascal Senior Incorporated, and a volunteer with the Pascal Senior Center for the last 16 years.
Residents often are unaware of the services offered by the county - which ranges from transportation to legal representation -until it is too late, said Thomas, who was one of the 22 attendees at the event, a senior services public hearing Wednesday.
The county is required to conduct such hearings periodically as a condition of receiving federal funds.
At the hearing, seniors voiced concerns over a lack of communication.
But county officials said they are testing new approaches to solve what seniors refer to as the problem: how to spread the word about services for seniors and their families.
"We're testing every opportunity in order to get the word out there," said Wayne Taylor, Director of the Anne Arundel County Department of Aging and Disabilities.
"We're finding out there are still people out there who are still unaware," Taylor said.
Seniors account for about 10.6 percent of the county population, according to the latest data from the Census Bureau.
And according to some residents, the department has always had some trouble reaching this segment.
The directory of senior services has been a major staple of the department's outreach efforts.
The department has boosted circulation of the annual magazine-like directory by distributing the publication to doctors' offices and places of worship, Taylor said.
"The approach is the same. The focus is different," Taylor said. "That's being proactive. That's moving forward. People don't pick up the magazine, and they don't seek us out until they need us."
So far, the department has dropped off the directory to about 80 places of worship, since June 1, Taylor estimated. He hopes to reach all 500 churches in the area, he said.
Besides printed materials, the department has also taken to the airwaves.
The county's local access channel has broadcasted information about different county services and advertised events in the senior community.
The department has also used the county executive's weekly radio broadcast.
Both the department and senior citizens agreed previous efforts to reach seniors with printed materials has not been as effective as the groups would have liked. Some county residents said they didn't hear about the hearing until the night before or the morning of the hearing.
County Executive John Leopold said the hearings are a good way to communicate county initiatives to the senior population.
"I want to use the hearings as a vehicle to inform our senior population about recent initiatives that will impact them," Leopold said in a phone interview.
Thomas suggested more town meeting on annual basis instead of the required one public hearing every four years. He also suggested better advertising. Some residents encourage the county to bump up outreach efforts using the computer.
Hil Yeskey, a county resident who attended the hearing, suggested that the county should contact seniors and their families by using a listserv.
Pam Jordan, the county's coordinator for matters related to the Americans with Disabilities Act, said the department sends senior-related e-mails to community associations, who forward them to individuals.
However, Yeskey said she never received an e-mail about Wednesday's hearing.
But the problem of seniors not taking full advantage of the county services doesn't just boil down to communication, Taylor said.
"Some people don't want to accept the fact that they're old enough to use the center and haven't been to the center," he said. "The people who are 55 now are unwilling to come in here and use the services ... unless they need us."
Services for seniors
Anne Arundel County provides a number of services for senior citizens, including:
Handy Cab: coupons for discounted cab rides for needy seniors or disabled adults.
Friendly Visitor: a weekly, one-hour visit to homebound seniors.
Voting transportation: residents can arrange a ride to the polls.
Ombudsman Program: for information on, or to file a complaint about long-term care facilities.
Senior centers: The county operates a number of centers that provide educational programs, recreational activities, health screenings, seminars and classes in art, crafts, computer use, dance and many other topics.
For information, go to www.aacounty.org/Aging/agingServices or call 1-800-492-2499 or 410- 222-4355.