OCEAN COUNTY UPDATE ON COVID 19 PANDEMIC – OC SENIOR SERVICES-VETERAN SERVICES-CONSUMER AFFAIRS
AS OCEAN COUNTY moves into month five of the COVID-19 Pandemic, county offices and staff remain on the job helping our must vulnerable residents, Freeholder Director Joseph H. Vicari said.
“Our routine has changed but our elderly and vulnerable residents can rest assured that we will continue to meet their needs,” Vicari said.
While most county offices are closed to in-person visits, staff is working in every department, including the Office of Senior Services, Veterans Service Bureau and the Department of Consumer Affairs.
In the Office of Senior Services, Director Maria La Face said the volume of calls is increasing as people address concerns both related and unrelated to COVID-19.
“We’re seeing a lot of calls about normal issues, such as Medicare questions,” she said.
Concerns are also mounting from caregivers, usually the adult children of older seniors.
“After months of isolation many of our caregivers are realizing that their parents are perhaps not doing as well as they thought and may not be able to care for themselves,” La Face said. “Combined with a shortage of home health aides, this is becoming a real challenge.”
Vicari, who is also liaison to the Office of Senior Services, said many caregivers are in fact senior citizens themselves taking care of their older parents.
Money is also a growing concern among the county’s older population. “Everything costs more, from food to toilet paper,” Vicari said. “Every dollar that is cut or spent elsewhere is a dollar less to spend on food.”
Vicari said he is continuing his effort to combat the elimination of the state’s Property Tax Relief and Homestead Credit Programs.
The Ocean County Board of Chosen Freeholders has already unanimously passed a resolution calling on Gov. Phil Murphy and the state Legislature to restore both the senior tax freeze and the Homestead Rebate.
While constituent services continue to be handled over the phone, La Face said her office does have an in-person outreach scheduled for early August.
“On August 4th my staff will travel to the Original Leisure Village in Lakewood for an outdoor event to meet with senior citizens and address their concerns,” she said. “Everyone will be masked and if the event is successful we would like to expand it.”
As plans move forward to re-open county buildings to the public, La Face said she would like to see her office bring more services to senior communities rather than asking seniors to come into the department’s Toms River office.
“Our new service delivery system will include mobile events like the one scheduled in August, virtual platforms and social media,” she said.
The Ocean County Veterans Service Bureau has also been handling its clients via telephone and computers. Director John P. Dorrity said initial claims with the Department of Veterans Affairs are handled over the phone.
“Appeals are handled through a system known as the Virtual VA,” he said. “It requires only an email address.”
Dorrity said that despite the continued county lockdown, his staff, like other county offices, has been working through the crisis.
“The workload has been intense and heavy but our folks are getting the job done,” he said.
Freeholder Gerry P. Little, liaison to the Veterans Service Bureau, said Ocean County never forgets its veterans.
“These brave men and women were there when we needed them and Ocean County will always be there for them, no matter what the circumstances,” Little said.
Steve Scaturro, director of the Ocean County Department of Consumer Affairs, said his office remains busy investigating consumer fraud complaints.
“We remain staffed as usual, accepting calls and correspondence from the public,” Scaturro said. “We respond immediately and investigate price gouging, and all other complaints filed by the public.”
Price-gouging complaints were more common at the start of the Pandemic, he added.
More frequent Pandemic-related complaints include cancellation of contracts for cruises, theme parks and motels due to COVID-19 restrictions.
“We take each on a case-by-case basis,” Scaturro said “We have had good results in assisting consumers with these issues.”
At the same time, the department is dealing with more routine complaints, with home improvement, auto sales and computer-related scams topping the list.
Weights and Measures inspectors also continue to perform inspections at gas stations, marinas and retail establishments to ensure compliance with state regulations designed to protect the public.
“When we have to prosecute a complaint it is done through a virtual court session,” Scaturro said.