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Ashfield Selectboard talks senior services

Published: 9/22/2019 9:00:09 PM

ASHFIELD — The needs of Ashfield’s seniors — including senior housing, transportation, health care access, mobility and community — were the focus of an open forum during last week’s Selectboard meeting.

The discussion came out of July talks between the Selectboard, Finance Committee and Council on Aging that raised questions as to whether Ashfield should remain part of the three-town senior center in Shelburne Falls, with many saying that plans to build a new center are taking too long and that the 20-minute trip to the facility is too far for many Ashfield seniors to travel.

Selectboard Chair Tom Carter opened the meeting by sharing what the town has paid so far to support the current Senior Center, and what funding may be allotted to its proposed expansion project. He emphasized that the meeting was for residents to share their ideas.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean that we are thinking about walking away from the Senior Center,” Carter said. “(We’re) just trying to get a handle on where to employ (the town’s) money.”

The answers brought to the floor on Sept. 16 were mixed.

“Do we support huge amounts of funding for this? I guess I would say I’d rather not. I would rather see us work within the community,” Beverly Duncan said of the proposed Senior Center expansion.

Renée Rastorfer said “the social needs that we (seniors) have are very important” and that the Senior Center can address some of those needs.

One thing was clear: the Shelburne Falls Senior Center needs to make its services more widely known in the Ashfield community. When transportation and health care options came up, the audience responses reflected a variety of experiences and opinions.

“I can tell the people are not as familiar with the services (of the Senior Center),” Rastorfer said.

A number of residents shared positive transportation experiences through the Senior Center, while others mentioned that transportation needs to be scheduled far in advance. A few others mentioned that transportation was largely available within Franklin County, but that wasn’t helpful if they needed to get to doctor’s appointments across county lines, like in Northampton or at Berkshire Medical Center.

Accessible medical care came up next, with the idea of having more services available in town. The ideas of having a local clinic — and working with the town’s Board of Health to do so — as well as having a health outreach worker were discussed.

David Fessenden suggested a hybridized model, a mix of in-person care and the ability to Skype a provider to ask questions. This is something that Fessenden said he has used through Northampton Veteran’s Affairs.

Evelyn Resh, a health care provider, said that although the hybridized model is growing in popularity, “there’s nothing that can replace the brain in my hands” for diagnosing. She said she would like to see regular health care services within Ashfield.

“It seems to me that we have a good thing,” Nina Coler said of the health care services at the Senior Center, adding “I hesitate to say, ‘Let’s duplicate it’” in Ashfield.

Senior housing was talked about as well, with many residents voicing their support to see senior housing in town. A former Planning Board member mentioned that senior housing was talked about on that board for 10 years, but housing didn’t materialize.

Other topics included mobility, particularly ways the town could improve walkability in the winter and accessibility of the town’s buildings to accommodate seniors.

“I like to go to places that have a mix of ages,” Ricki Carroll said, adding that she’d like to see if the town invest more money into making buildings in town more accessible.

There were some questions on the long-term impacts of investing in the Senior Center, with resident Ron Coler wondering if Ashfield could ever sell its equity in the center. In response, Selectboard member Todd Olanyk wondered if there’d ever be a buyer.

At the end of the forum, Olanyk said, “I feel like there are as many questions now as there were leading up to tonight.”

Town Administrator Kaycee Warren said Wednesday that although there is no formalized timeline, one of the next steps is to continue to solicit residents’ feedback, which can be provided to the Selectboard in writing, by email or in person.

“I think there’s going to be another conversation,” she said, “I just don’t know when that’s going to be.”

Reach Maureen O’Reilly at 413-772-0261, ext. 280 or

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