South Florida Hospital News
Sunday May 26, 2019
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April 2005 - Volume 1 - Issue 9

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Elderly Provide Joy, Challenge for Social Service Coordinator

Barbara Curtis thinks of herself as a bit of an old-timer. With 38 years of her life spent in northeastern Broward County, she’s seen plenty of growth and plenty of change.

The building where she works, for example, was once used by the Broward County Health Department, and it’s where she received her immunizations to attend school. After graduating from Coconut Creek High School and Broward Community College, she went on to Florida Atlantic University with the idea of becoming an accountant, but found the profession not to be a good fit.

"I was more of a people person," she says.

Curtis went on to earn a degree in health administration and after working in other jobs in the areas of health care and social services, she’s found what she calls "the perfect match for me" as social service coordinator at the Northeast Focal Point Senior Center in Deerfield Beach, one of four such centers in Broward County. "We’ll be 25 years old next year," she says proudly.

As the oldest in a family of seven children, Curtis is used to living in a lively atmosphere, and the center is certainly that.

"We serve seniors, people with Alzheimer’s, and physically frail seniors," she says. "And we also have a child daycare center here, too."

The center provides a variety of services for 1,200 independent seniors and 60 mentally or physically frail clients. It’s also a place for the elderly to call their own, offering social, educational, recreational and nutritional services and support. The center helps seniors locate the services they need.

"We tell our clients ‘You need someone to steer you in the right direction.’ We can refer people to what’s the right fit for them," she says. "Even if I can’t solve their problems, I’m a sympathetic ear who’ll listen to them."

She is often called upon to connect the seniors with the services most appropriate to their needs.

"I work with the families to see the clients are in the right programs for them, getting the right services," she says. Curtis chuckles. "I’m kind of all over the place. I also go out into the community, telling people about the place, and how we can help."

The center also offers a fleet of 16 buses to transport clients to the center, to physician appointments and for grocery shopping. "Transportation is a huge need for seniors, who can’t or don’t drive any more," she says. "Running the bus service is a big undertaking, and we offer door-to-door service, but it’s something that helps our people remain independent and meets their needs."

The center, which serves residents from Deerfield Beach, Pompano Beach, Lighthouse Point, Hillsboro Beach, Sea Ranch Lakes and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea is open Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and is home to a whirlwind of activities. Lunch is served at noon each day for clients who have difficulty selecting or preparing foods themselves, or who would benefit from a nutritious meal for other reasons.

Additionally, the center offers a thrift shop. "It helps in raising funds for our coffers," Curtis says.

Curtis says she loves her job and it’s apparent she loves her clients as well.

"I’ve learned quite a lot from the seniors I’ve worked with," she says. "They’ve lived their lives and many times they’ve imparted their knowledge to me. Like one lady, who taught me ‘don’t postpone joy.’ I have a little card in my office reminding me of that. So often we go through our lives wrapped up in tomorrow that they fail to be happy now."

Much about the elder years can be challenging, Curtis says, and one phrase: "Retirement is not all it’s cracked up to be," pops up often as she speaks. Curtis constantly looks for opportunities to help her clients find purpose and meaning in their lives.

"The losses in many of their lives have been great and complicating all these losses are their limited funds," she said. "They thought Social Security was going to be the answer."

One avenue to restore their purpose and connectedness, she’s found, has been through volunteer activities.

"We have about 250 of our people in our volunteer program," she says. "It gives them a sense of purpose. When they come on the days they’re going to volunteer, they’re ready, they’re dressed up. They’re set to go to work."

Being an old-timer in Broward has helped Curtis watch its evolution and help affect the center’s response.

"It’s changed so much," she says. "We’ve opened our center up to accommodate the different cultures in the community. Now, we assist Hispanics, Creole-speakers and people who speak Portuguese. Many of these families don’t understand the system and many may be leery of the system."

Curtis continually looks for ways to help extend the center’s reach, working with home health agencies, physicians and others in the field.

"We try to work with discharge planners at the local hospitals," she says. "They’re very helpful. With physicians, they’re all busy, but I wish they were able to be attuned to all the needs of the seniors they serve. Many times, they don’t think about their patients’ social needs, and that should be part of their work as medical providers."

But the thing that keeps Curtis’ work refreshing to her are the people she works with, the lives she touches.

"People come to us, as a social service agency, with all kinds of needs and questions," she says. "I think they’re very appreciative of what we offer them."

Barbara Curtis can be reached at (954) 422-5810.
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