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Agencies Scramble to Aid Joplin Seniors

Focus is on providing basic services and medications

The massive tornado strike that left at least 120 people dead in Joplin, Mo., has put local senior agencies in a full sprint to locate and assist the city's older adult population.

See also: Disaster victims fail to seek aid.

"One of the nursing homes was hit very hard," said Carolyn McLaren, director of the Area Agency on Aging in Region X, which includes Joplin. The staff at The Greenbriar nursing home had some warning of the storm, but the building was devastated, rendering their preparations futile. At least 11 people there were killed — 10 residents and a staff member — according to the Associated Press. The remaining residents have been transferred to different skilled nursing facilities, McLaren said.

At the moment, neither county emergency response officials nor the Red Cross has an official total of older people who died in the tornado. Their efforts are focused on providing basic services for the older population, much of which has found itself with poor cellphone coverage, no electricity or gas and no transportation or water. Joplin's population is about 50,000, with about 7,400 people age 65 and over.

As is typical in disaster situations, a patchwork of agencies is linked up and working together to help those in need. "The local senior centers, combined with area agencies and also the Missouri division of senior and disability services, are working together," said Chris Cline, a spokesman for the Missouri state emergency management agency.

McLaren has been involved in preparing meal packages for older people in Joplin. Looking ahead, she foresees helping seniors with paying bills and getting medication. At some point, she will also begin to clean and restore the senior center, which is flooded and mud-strewn but survived the storm.

The Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services, which regulates long-term care facilities in the state, has also made efforts. "We have been going about our procedures," said communications director Jacqueline Lapine. Her staff has been checking in with the facilities affected by the storm, making sure they have basic office supplies and anything else needed to operate as normally as possible. They are also taking stock of bed capacity and relocating residents when necessary.

"Right now, it's a matter of trying to contact and be in contact with those we serve," McLaren said.

Sam Petulla is a writer in Washington, D.C.

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