From affordable housing and health care, to transportation and the COVID-19 vaccine, senior citizens across the state have a number of issues to be concerned about.
Donna Phillips, 71, of Dunkirk and her dog Blazer are out for a spring walk, after the Chautauqua County Adult Daycare bus picked up her partner Peter and brought him to the program inside St. John's United Church of Christ.
Peter is battling dementia. So while he's at daycare, Donna has time to catch up with her friend Patty and have a little time for herself
"Do things that I like to do, cook, bake. To go see my friends, maybe go to lunch with my friends," said Phillips.
She has also established a lifeline with the Office for the Aging in Mayville, an agency that not only helps Peter, but has also connected her with support and crisis services.
Staff also arranged for Phillips to receive her COVID-19 vaccine at Brooks Memorial Hospital.
"Took all that frustration away from me, as far as trying to get an appointment to get a shot. I thank God for them every day. I mean they are an essential service. I'd be totally lost without them. Really, I wouldn't know where to go or who to reach out to. And the services that are provided, they're critical," said Phillips.
Critical services put on hold once the pandemic hit — as adult daycare shut down.
That left Donna as Peter's sole full-time, around the clock, in-home caregiver.
"It was kind of a nightmare. It was very challenging. Very overwhelming. Peter was now home every day. He was not happy because he wasn't getting other outside experiences," said Phillips.
Mary Ann Spanos, executive director of the county's Office for the Aging, says before COVID, issues important to seniors included home and community-based programs, health and wellness, and transportation.
Amid the pandemic, the agency restructured its home-delivered meal program and closed senior dining sites.
"It did throw everybody in a tailspin. Some of them did not want aides coming into the house. Our biggest need was food," said Spanos.
Spanos says the office provided shopping assistance, arranged food drops and helped roll out the COVID vaccine.
It has also given out animatronic pets to combat social isolation, as many senior groups have stopped getting together.
"For exercise. And all of that impacts their health. How do we re-engage these people, make them feel comfortable going to a congregate meal site, going to a senior club or senior center is going to be really important," said Spanos.
"The needs of our rural seniors are very different than my colleagues in New York City," said George Borrello, (R) Senate-Sunset Bay.
Borrello is another advocate for seniors like Donna, as the only rural community representative who sits on the aging committee in Albany.
He says the group is working to reverse budget cuts to senior programs, and tackle issues like affordable housing, and the expansion of independent and assisted living programs.
"To be on this committee, being able to bring forward those issues that are unique to, not to just Western New York, but to all rural areas of Upstate New York is something that I'm passionate about and I'm glad to be there to help," said Borrello.
Phillips is equally as glad, and is calling on Borrello to help her get the word out about the services Office for the Aging offers seniors in his district.
"They're a wealth of information. Friends and family, when they get to retirement, I suggest that be the first phone call they make, is Office for the Aging," said Phillips.
She says she still calls the office, as Peter's condition has worsened.
Now that he's back in daycare, Phillips is outside, in her garden — a place she says she finds therapeutic.
"Relaxing. Sunshine. Just feels good. Feels like you can live again," said Phillips.