Things have been looking up at the Mineral County Senior Center since Mike James took over as director in May.

James said the center, commonly known as the Care and Share, has seen a drastic increase in the number of seniors it serves. The uptick is attributable to many sources, James said, not the least of which is a new, more positive attitude.

“We have really positive staff, they’re really happy to help people, they’re really happy to be there,” James said. “And that stuff’s contagious. That kind of thing, people see that innately.”

James also said the focus at the center has shifted to helping people in need, rather than the amount received each day in donations, which also makes the staff happier.

Another possible reason for the increased attendance is better food. James said the center hired new cooks who have dramatically improved the quality of meals.

“I personally feel it’s the best food in Hawthorne right now,” James said.

But the better food doesn’t mean the price has gone up. The suggested donation for seniors is still just $2.50.

“We would rather see people eat down there, and use our services rather than pay,” James said. “If it’s an issue of somebody not being able to pay or worried about the finances, we would much rather see people helped.”

There may also be an economic factor, James said.

“Retired folks are in dire economic situation,” James said. “They need to get whatever services they can to kind of ameliorate their situation.”

The result is about a 10 to 15 percent increase in the number of meals served over the last month, James said. On Aug. 29 there were 75 people “in the building” James said.
“It hasn’t been like that in several years,” James said.

There was also an increase in the number of meals ordered by Meals on Wheels, James said.

While James couldn’t point to a specific event that brought in more traffic; he said he expects even more people will start using the Care and Share’s services. As the population of Hawthorne ages, James said he expects more seniors to become homebound, increasing the demand for Meals on Wheels.

“We’re seeing the Baby Boomers become seniors,” James said. “For the first few years even though they were technically seniors, they were still working, so they didn’t really need the services yet. Now a lot of them really are retired, and they’re getting on Medicare, and they’re just more in need of the services than they used to be.

“And I think that’s going to continue as the numbers increase.”

James said Mineral County has more people over 60-years-old than any other county in Nevada — about one third of the people in the county are seniors, he said.

The increased attendance is crucial to both seniors and the Care and Share, James said.

While more seniors in the doors may bring in more donations, increased attendance allows the staff at the Care and Share to link more people up to the services they need.

“The big thing about getting people in the building is that if they need something else while they’re there, we can help them,” James said.

The center also hired a senior services specialist, Julia Viani, who will work at the center on Tuesdays through Thursdays.

“They’re there to help people with Medicare; getting connected with services, getting set up with Meals on Wheels; nutrition services; distribution of commodity products, that kind of stuff,” James said.

The goal of Viani’s job, and the grant that funds it, is to help seniors stay independent, in their homes, happy and vital as long as they can, James said.

Viani’s job goals mirror the Care and Share’s mission, James said.

“Nobody wants to go into managed care,” James said. “Literally. I don’t think anybody says ‘oh yeah, I want to be in a nursing home.’ That’s not something people want to do.”

Keeping seniors can also help reduce the stress on nursing homes, James said. Staying independent also helps the physical and psychological well being of the seniors.

The Care and Share has also become the public guardian for the county.

James said he and a deputy handle the people under the care of Mineral County.

The center cares for four wards of the county, James said. He also said not all of them are seniors. The number of wards who are not seniors is kept confidential, to protect the privacy of the wards.

James said he also expects the number of wards to grow, as the population of the county ages.

James said the guardianship program will accept anyone who cannot care for themselves, and has nobody else to care for them, but ideally the wards would already be placed in a nursing home or other long term care facility.

“This is not something we do lightly,” he said. “Taking over the responsibilities of a citizen is a really, really big deal.”

James said the additional responsibilities broaden the scope of Care and Share’s services, but the new responsibilities also fit in with the center’s mission.

“I think it’s a natural partnership,” James said. “Before it was handled through [Mineral County District Attorney Sean Rowe’s] office. The DA is great, but it’s not a caring, nurturing environment that the Care and Share is. It’s in our name. We care and we share.”