No elevator means limited social interaction for seniors at Seattle Southeast Seniors Center

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by Carolyn Bick

For those of us with good knees, hips, and joints, not having access to a lift isn’t a big deal. It’s okay, we’ll just take the stairs.

But for those who can’t climb the stairs – either because of poor joints or because they depend on walkers and wheelchairs – not having access to an elevator is a major problem. And now that the elevator at the Southeast Seattle Seniors Center (SESSC) has definitely broken down, a number of seniors at the center are facing significant social isolation.

The elevator, SESSC director Lynda Greene explained in an interview with the emerald, is as old as the building. He needs to be replaced in the last five or six years, but a full replacement would cost a substantial sum of money, so the center resorted to “jury-rigging,” Greene said.

“We’re at the point where we know the repairers and they know us,” Greene said. “It’s to the point where it’s almost comical.”

But fixing the 40-year-old contraption is no longer working, Greene said – mainly because the parts he needs are no longer manufactured – and, for four months, the center has been without a lift. The center is trying to raise funds to replace the elevator, but things have been difficult. So far, SESSC has raised just over $ 100,000 through grants, but must find an additional $ 60,000 to replace the elevator.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on the centre’s finances and its ability to raise funds. He’s currently looking for community donations through a GoFundMe page, but, at the time of this writing, he’s only managed to get just over $ 2,000.

Greene told the emerald that the elevator has a number of issues which have worsened over time despite various fixes from the repairman. For example, she said, elevator doors won’t always close and the elevator car will no longer stop at ground level. Instead, it opens when the cabin is several inches below the ground, posing a major tripping hazard for anyone inside, especially the elderly. Things have gone so badly that even though the elevator is still technically moving, Greene cannot allow anyone to enter it because it is too dangerous.

“We had staff members stuck in the elevator, because it wouldn’t budge,” Greene said. “I’m kidding, but when you think about it, what that really means – not having an elevator running – it’s kinda scary. And we took risks, but for security reasons, we can’t do it anymore. “

It’s more than frightening and dangerous for many alumni at the center, Greene said. For those who rely on the elevator to get around, that means they can no longer attend the events at the center that they relied on for social interaction – and in the event of a pandemic, that means they are more isolated than never.

The emerald wrote early last year about the challenges the seniors at the center were facing and how many were calling the center in desperation, because they were so alone during the initial phase of physical distancing. Greene said those calls haven’t stopped, especially now that the pernicious delta variant is on the increase. The choice not to follow masking mandates and flout safe practices allows the variant to spread, meaning more and more vulnerable people, including the elderly, will be stuck inside and alone. .

The center has held small classes and masked group activities on all of its floors in an effort to combat this isolation, but since the elevator does not work, Greene estimates that at least 10 to 15 seniors per day can no longer access it. . activities and classes – and these were just those who decided that trying to overcome loneliness and isolation was worth the risk.

Greene recalled that one particular woman who is in a wheelchair takes Access Paratransit to get to the center – “she loves to come, and we love to have her here,” Greene said – but now that the elevator is out of order. , it is relegated to the courses and activities of the first floor. Staff at the center have tried to get around these issues by running classes in the lobby, but since the lobby is small and therefore doesn’t allow much social distancing, it is difficult to have a lot of participants.

The center now also holds its ukulele lessons in the garage, but even though it is outside and there is enough space for social distancing, this lesson can only take so long in the garage. : at the moment the weather is fine enough for the elderly to be comfortable. But in a few weeks, when the cool, rainy days of fall arrive, that will change.

“We don’t have radiators. We can’t afford to buy heaters to heat the garage, so we’ll have to find something, ”Greene said. “I keep my fingers crossed that before we go into … late fall, early winter, our elevator will be fixed and we can bring them in.” [the elders] Come back inside. “

Last March, the center launched a hot meal program for seniors who would not otherwise have access to hot meals during quarantine. This program continued throughout the year and continues for about a year and a half later. Currently, the center serves over 180 people per day, and Greene said she and staff are constantly “moving tables” around the cafeteria area to make room for classes and activities around the schedule. of preparing lunch. Even though it’s difficult to change everything and try to create another classroom space, and the number of participants has dropped even further, due to the broken elevator, Greene said the last thing she and his staff want to do to a needy elder is to dismiss them because there would otherwise be no room for that person’s class or activity.

Greene said the center is trying to avoid taking out a loan, especially in these uncertain times. But having a working elevator is not negotiable, so the center uses the services of a replacement company. And while the final payment for the elevator replacement isn’t due until the project is complete, that deadline isn’t too far off: Greene said the elevator repair should be done before Thanksgiving.

“If they don’t have access to those classes and activities, it just creates more social isolation, and that’s the last thing we want our seniors to face,” Greene said. “They are still struggling with COVID issues and still at home, because of COVID. And now the adults who are even ready to leave their homes and come to the center – we don’t have the capacity to serve them the way we want. And this is the part that really tears me apart… because we are not able to provide the level of service to our seniors who need it.

To donate to the center, visit the GoFundMe page to donate. This reporter would specifically like to note that if 10,000 people donated just $ 6 each, the center would have all the money it needs for the elevator replacement.


Carolyn Bick is a reporter and photographer for the South Seattle Emerald. You can reach them here, and discover more of their work here and here.

Image courtesy of the Southeast Seattle Seniors Center

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