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Age-Friendly Portland and Multnomah County, Oregon, Responds to COVID-19

A look at how the community is serving and protecting its older residents

Multnomah County, Oregon, is home to about 810,000 people, the vast majority of whom reside within the Portland city limits. About 13 percent of the county's population is age 65 or older.

Multilingual Resources

COVID-19 Information in Somali

Handouts with information about acquiring personal protective equipment are available in English, Spanish, Russian, Somali (pictured) and Vietnamese. Click on the image to see all the flyers.

In 2006, Portland became the first community in the United States to engage in a global age-friendly project launched by the World Health Organization and is one of the longest continually-operating age-friendly initiatives in the world.

When that program's U.S.-based affiliate — the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities — launched in 2012, the City of Portland became a member and Multnomah County joined in 2014. The two operate jointly though an advisory council as Age-Friendly Portland and Multnomah County.

Community Representatives: 

DeLaTorre and Grahek explain how the community is helping its older residents during the coronavirus pandemic. The two serve on the respective city and county emergency response teams and have been instrumental in shaping a coordinated municipal response to COVID-19 as the pandemic relates to older adults and people with disabilities.

(Information provided to AARP on May 26, 2020)

The Challenge

"Coordination between the city and county began in mid-March and focused on understanding who was receiving support from the county and where additional community-based responses were needed." 

"At the end of March, Portland leaders asked [DeLaTorre] to stand-up a new aging and disability community project with the city’s Emergency Coordination Center. The project would complement existing services, fill remaining gaps and prioritized four complementary areas of focus. (See the sidebar.).

"Central to the work was obtaining, packaging and delivering personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies for free to unserved caregivers, people with disabilities, and people who are immunocompromised. Outreach in Spanish, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Somali (pictured) was prioritized. 

"To help protect the health of our residents and caregivers, the city and county launched the Joint Volunteer Information Center to coordinate regional volunteers and the supplies needed to respond to COVID-19. The center has supported community-based organizations serving older adults, caregivers and people with disabilities.

"Another joint city-county effort is the Portland Fire & Rescue's Meds on Wheels program, which is arranging the delivery of the vital, life-saving medications that are needed by older residents and people with disabilities who have no other means of obtaining their medicines.

The Focus Areas

The Response

"While the county has extensive support in place for family caregivers and home care providers, community-based older adults and people with disabilities faced new challenges and needs with the stay home orders.

"Food access has also been a high priority for the city and county’s COVID-19 responses. The Aging and Disability Project communicates regularly with Multnomah County and Portland's ECC. Efforts are underway to provide cash assistance and culturally-specific foods — such as Ramadan meals — for individuals and families. 

"In addition to developing the program eligibility criteria and an equity framework, the city and county have emphasized supporting organizations that deliver meals to older adults and people with disabilities, as well as to programs that provide access to fresh fruits and vegetables in prepared food boxes. Cleaning supplies are also provided to ensure the safe delivery of food boxes for the recipients and those delivering the supplies. 

"To promote accessible and effective communication, we've been working with the joint information center to ensure that communications between Portland's Emergency Coordination Center and the general public are accessible to people with a range of abilities. The city and county worked jointly to launch a COVID-19 Aging and Disability webpage and ensure that people of all abilities can access important community information.

Response Partners

“To address social isolation and connections, staff has worked with city and county offices, as well as with local community-based organizations, to catalog, support and augment existing efforts to stem social isolation while maintaining safe physical distances. A guiding approach has been to increase social connections by tapping into community assets. For instance, the team is shaping instructions for home-based projects that can connect residents with neighbors through window art and door art, sidewalk chalk and other creative expressions.  

"With months of physical distancing potentially on the horizon, this project is geared toward a COVID-19 response and, just as importantly, a future recovery that will create a more resilient Portland and Multnomah County.

"Collaborations being planned include amplifying the AARP Community Connections platform, working with the city's Office of Community & Civic Life and other groups, such as neighborhood associations and the local Villages NW network."

The Results, Thus Far

"Through the coordinated efforts of the city of Portland and Multnomah County, growing caregiver needs have been identified and filled.

"Hundreds of individualized personal protection equipment packets and cleaning supplies have been hand-delivered by volunteers and mail deliveries have begun. Hundreds of additional masks and gloves, and lots of cleaning supplies have been provided to organizations providing caregiver services.

"With efforts to get informational flyers in multiple languages, we've been able to serve underserved individuals from a variety of backgrounds.

"Through other COVID-19 projects, in partnership with the city and county, we're supporting the community by sharing information and resources and tailoring future projects to our residents’ evolving needs." 

COVID-19 Resources

Age-Friendly Portland and Multnomah County

Click on the image to visit this page of COVID-19 resources as posted on the Age-Friendly Portland and Multnomah County website.

Research by Shosanna Preuss  | Article published May 2020

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