TOMS RIVER – While the idea of members of the Ocean County Chosen Board of Freeholders playing the roles of Hawkeye Pierce, Corporal Klinger, Hot Lips Hoolihan or Radar from the popular 1970s television show and feature film M*A*S*H seem comical, the reality is, Ocean County will be fielding its own “MASH” unit.
This MASH Unit stands for Mobile Assistance For Seniors at Home and it is expected to be operational in the coming months. Instead of treating wounded soldiers, this 21st century MASH program would be on the frontlines helping seniors, according to Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari.
“We will be bringing more of our services right to our senior communities rather than residents coming into our Toms River Senior Services office,” Vicari said. When the COVID-19 pandemic first struck the county in the spring and forced most county offices to close to the public, he looked for a way to continue services for the county’s most vulnerable residents.
The plans for MASH were formulated over the summer and tested earlier this month during an outreach at Leisure Village in Lakewood.
“We had hoped to test the waters during a visit to Leisure Village in August, but the tropical storm that hit the area washed out our plans,” said Maria La Face, director of the Ocean County Office of Senior Services.
She added that the event was rescheduled to October 6 and was a success both for her staff and for the residents of Leisure Village.
“We set up outside with folding tables and portable Plexiglas to interview clients. We used all the necessary disinfectants and PPEs. We were there from 9 to 5 and assisted close to 30 residents,” she added.
Vicari, who is the liaison to the Office of Senior Services, added, “seniors were grateful that we came out to see them so they didn’t have to drive into Toms River. Based on the experience of this first event, we are working to expand the MASH program.”
Future visits may include representatives from the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs and the Surrogate’s Office.
The MASH initiative is unique in the state according to Vicari who said, “no one is doing anything like this on this scale in the state.”
“Ocean County is home to more senior citizens than any other county and we are leading the way in providing services to our older adults,” Vicari added.
The mobile program is even more important as the COVID-19 crisis continues to grip the county and the nation.
“The ongoing pandemic has been devastating to our senior communities. Besides the physical threat of contracting the illness, many of our seniors have been dealing with stress and other psychological issues, including loneliness,” Vicari said.
Vicari stressed that once the pandemic eases, MASH will remain. “when the communities open up and allow indoor activities, we would hold the event inside their clubhouses with all of the necessary safety precautions”
Until that time, work is continuing on the logistics of holding mobile events as the weather turns colder.
Both tents and possibly a bus have been discussed, but no decision has yet been made. The key is we will continue to bring our services to our seniors,” Vicari said.
“Asking them to physically come to our office for an appointment was challenging for many seniors because of their age, frailty, loss of license and mobility before the pandemic. Now they have the additional risk of infection and serious health complications whenever they venture out, especially to indoor office buildings that are frequented by the public,” Vicari said.
“What good are all of our programs if those that need them most cannot access them? MASH will allow us to bring the services to them,” Vicari said.
The Office of Senior Services is open and available to assist residents by phone. The office can be reached at 732-929-2091.