Due to the spread of COVID-19, the Moscow Longevity project has been on vacation since 16 March. Besides, starting 26 March, all Muscovites over 65 must self-isolate.
Employees of the Department of Social Communications and Active Longevity of territorial social service centres told about changes in their work. Previously, these specialists invited older Muscovites to join hobby clubs, looked for coaches and venues to hold classes, entered into cooperation with parks, schools, fitness centres, and were engaged in registering all these events. Today, some specialists have joined mobile teams, which provide assistance to Muscovites over 65 and people with chronic diseases at home. They bring food, prescription medicines, and more.
Social assistants are on the move all day long. It is extremely important for them to be cautious and follow hygiene rules. Each employee of the social service centre who is to go out gets a set of personal protective equipment in the morning.
'We always wear gloves and masks we change every two hours,' says Andrei Zolotov, an employee of the Department of Social Communications and Active Longevity of Zyablikovo branch of the Tsaritsynsky Territorial Social Service Centre. 'Despite restrictions, there are still plenty of people in stores these days. I disinfect my gloves before new contacts. Also, I avoid public transport, if possible, so I mostly walk.'
According to Andrei, the vast majority of pensioners take the COVID-19 seriously, they comply with social distancing. However, there are people who do not fear it at all — they invite us to have some tea or coffee. We have to refuse politely but firmly, since this is strictly forbidden now. Besides, we just have no time for this. When the lockdown was announced, the five-person team including Andrei received 30–40 requests a day.
One cannot cancel communication provided it is safe. Social assistants contact retired people who have left requests via the hotline to make a list of foodstuff. Sometimes, these conversations last longer than usual. So, recently a resident of our district ordered to bring a cake, as it was her birthday. Social service centre's employees purchased sweet treats for the pensioner at the Department's expense. Shopping in a store on the eve of Easter, Andrei Zolotov decided to give the pensioner an Easter cake.
'When we met, she said she had been living alone for a long time, and it was a real pleasure for her to have such a gift,' says the social assistant.
Zyablikovo branch employees call their charges, wish them a happy birthday. They ask how they spend their time in self-isolation and offer assistance. They are engaged in another work now, too, as the centre is preparing an online exhibition dedicated to 9 May. Participants of the Moscow Longevity project are already sending photos of their drawings and crafts for the holiday. They will be published on the Social Service Centre's website.
Employees of the Butyrsky branch of the Alekseyevsky Territorial Social Service Centre have been communicating with the Moscow Longevity project's participants online in a special chat in one of the messengers. Some coaches post classes online: they upload video tutorials on ribbon weaving or some sports, such as yoga. Many active pensioners, coaches and centre's employees are friends in social media communicating with each other.
'When we launched the program, there were only a few people using messengers. Now almost all of them communicate in messengers. Many pensioners attended online literacy classes and bought or received gadgets as a gift from their children,' says Mikhail Yakimovich, Chief Monitoring Specialist of the Department of Social Communications and Active Longevity of the Butyrsky branch of the Alekseyevsky Territorial Social Service Centre. 'Had the quarantine started when the Moscow Longevity didn’t exist yet, many would be left alone, since some of them have no children and grandchildren. But now they actively communicate and call each other.'
Moreover, those who had attended hobby clubs do not apply for social assistance as often. Many pensioners now use delivery services. Instead, the Moscow Longevity specialists working in mobile teams could meet other district pensioners and told them about the program.
An important mission of social assistants is to get prescriptions and deliver free medicines.
'We help those who are registered in our district, even if they went to the country. We cooperated with car owners to deliver medication, for example, to Khimki and Sergiyev Posad. Now the doctors try to meet the needs and prescribe medicines for three months ahead,' Mikhail Yakimovich says.
This will not last forever
Natiya Dgebuadze, an employee of the Chertanovo Tsentralnoye branch of the Chertanovo Territorial Social Service Centre, agrees that the work has changed: 'We used to communicate a lot about clubs and classes with Moscow Longevity participants and coaches, we had new groups opened, with new people joining, we made up our schedule, issued documents. But now we have personal interaction only once in a while. However, we are always caring while making a shopping list on the phone. After all, we are not just couriers delivering food, we are social assistants.'
Social assistants usually purchase goods from the nearest stores. But sometimes one has to check a couple of pharmacies to find the required medicine. Also, social assistants support retired people not only with their good deeds, but also with words of encouragement.
'Some pensioners complain about long self-isolation, as it is difficult for them to cope with. But still they are responsible enough not to go out. We talk to them, tell that the lockdown is temporary, that they are not alone, and we are always there to help. That really comforts them. They are happy to realise that there are someone caring for them,' says Natia Dgebuadze.
Now and again the girl meets her charges from Moscow Longevity project, who are under 65 and allowed to go out.
'They say they really miss socialising and physical activity, as with the Moscow Longevity project they enjoyed a more active life. Recently, I came across a project participant in a store. 'After the lockdown is over, I'll go to the classes at once,' she said. Naturally, we want everything to go back to normal, too. We hope that this is around the corner,' says Natia Dgebuadze.