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Free health care will remain available for Amherst seniors

The Friends of the Senior Center group has agreed to provide $7,500 that will help maintain an 11-hour work week for Lisa White, the nurse who oversees what is called the Senior Health Services program.

Senior Center Director Nancy Pagano said the program supports people with a range of illnesses, some who can’t leave their homes, and White has become their lifeline.

“We are committed to the level of service we’re providing,” Pagano said.

White’s time in Amherst has been temporarily reduced to eight hours during what is being called an emergency period prompted by recently discovered $2,000 shortfall in the budget for the program. Prior to appealing to the Friends, Pagano said she was able to bridge the gap through $4,000 from an undesignated gift account held at Town Hall.

For more than a decade the health program has been primarily funded with an annual $10,000 donation from an anonymous Amherst woman, but this only covers White’s first six hours of work each week.

The program had been supplemented with grants, such as in 2008 when Cooley Dickinson Hospital provided $5,000 that provided the opportunity for outreach to seniors living at nearby apartments. Donations from individuals and organizations, such as the Amherst Club, and savings from the time the program was dormant in 2007 prior to White’s hiring, have allowed the program to remain intact and expand.

The money from the Friends will allow White to resume a schedule in which, for six hours each week (three hours on Mondays and three hours Thursday), she provides free services in the Bubble Room at Bangs Community Center, including screening and monitoring symptoms for health problems, taking blood pressure, blood glucose levels and weight measurements, and giving minor first aid.

White also distributes health information and resource materials in areas such as medication, diet and health, and also assists with other health care needs.

Her schedule calls for wellness clinics at Ann Whalen Apartments and Clark House, home visits at both buildings and other community home visits.

Pagano said she and White are committed to finding new grants and other sources of money.

Daniel Clapp, chairman of the Council on Aging and the Senior Health Advisory Group, said White’s work with seniors is vital.

“We think this is an excellent expenditure of money from the Friends,” Clapp said.

Council member Juana Trujillo, social service coordinator for the Amherst Housing Authority, said White assists with critical cases at Ann Whalen Apartments, giving advice to residents on the next steps in dealing with their illnesses.

In a typical year, White logs 700 to 800 patient visits with 70 to 90 seniors.

White also assists nursing students at the University of Massachusetts who go to Clark House to provide medical advice to residents.

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