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Access to Older Adult Services in Rural Areas

Jenna Gustafson | Published on 7/8/2021

There are many strong communities in Greater Minnesota with people who are passionate about helping one another, and are looking for local volunteer opportunities. However, in rural America there are often increased barriers in the process of connecting people to these programs - both for those who need service, and those who wish to serve. Through my experience as an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, I have had the pleasure of working with many of the volunteer coordinators who live and work in these areas. I would like to share a couple of issues our line of service faces on a regular basis, as well as ways our organization has been able to work around these common issues.

Our line of service (Caregiver and Companion Services) exists because of a growing demand to care for the physical and mental health of our aging population. Nationwide, public and private organizations alike are struggling to meet the needs of this rapidly expanding age group. The issue is exacerbated when you factor in the issues of transportation, low population density, and limited community resources that rural areas face. 

As a program that (outside of COVID) operates through in-home visits, it can be time-consuming and expensive for volunteers to drive to the homes of clients and take the client out for an errand or two. Or, the distance between a potential client and volunteer is too far to be feasible, so the match isn’t made and the client stays on a wait list until service is possible. Switching to virtual visits during the pandemic has been a blessing in terms of connecting folks between larger distances, yet those who make calls from rural areas may consistently struggle with unreliable internet connection or cell service.

LSS has tried to mitigate these barriers where it can, using grant funding that can help reimburse mileage and supply clients with tablets connected to the internet. However, no solution is perfect, and we are grateful for the volunteer coordinators who continue to do their very best to accommodate volunteers and clients in Greater Minnesota. None of this would be possible without their hard work, or the continued dedication of volunteers through these trying times.