Just days after retiring from the leadership of Mystic Valley Elder Services, Dan O’Leary has already lost track of his days.
But after a 46-year career of giving back and serving others, he has every right to sit back, play golf and enjoy Florida’s clement weather. After all, he successfully passed the reins to Lisa Gurgone, who took over the leadership of the organization and will serve as his guide in the future.
Both agree that the transition has been smooth as they are committed to the organization’s core mission of promoting the health and independence of its customers, local residents with disabilities and older people and their carers, and work to ensure that they live full lives with dignity and grace.
Mystic Valley Elder Services is a multi-faceted organization serving residents of 11 metropolitan area communities: Chelsea, Everett, Malden, Medford, Melrose, North Reading, Reading, Revere, Stoneham, Wakefield and Winthrop.
As he left, O’Leary congratulated the staff, partners and volunteers who helped make this mission a success.
“I’m proud to have been able to help people stay home,” O’Leary said of his 35 years with the organization.
As she begins to learn the ropes, Gurgone will continue to ensure clients can age in place, but also hopes to expand the reach of the organization to include the region’s diverse populations. She wants to integrate the different cultures, languages, and ethnicities under the umbrella of Mystic Valley Elder Services, learn and understand their needs, and expand services to meet those needs.
Meals on Wheels
When O’Leary began working in social services, Americans were beginning to create support systems to help care for the elderly at home: Meals on Wheels was a new idea, which had just been launched . He started with a group from Southwest Boston Senior Services (now Ethos, serving residents of the Jamaica Plain and adjacent neighborhoods).
“Caring for people in the home was nothing new,” O’Leary said, acknowledging that caring for the elderly has traditionally been the responsibility of women, stay-at-home moms and more common in ethnic enclaves.
At that time, the senior organization’s services primarily targeted older Caucasian Americans.
“A lot has changed,” O’Leary noted, reviewing the years he worked for MVES and noting improvements: expanded services to ethnic populations in the area, day care centers for the elderly, home health aides , medical visits.
A resident’s ability to stay in their home, the continuity it provides the connection to the fabric of their daily lives, is priceless, O’Leary said.
But even though he noted the positives, he noted some negatives. The biggest? The work force.
“There are not enough people willing and able to do the job,” O’Leary said, adding that more and more of the country’s people need help. Low salaries are also a problem. In O’Leary’s ideal world, there would be fewer, better-funded nursing homes and they would be a last resort.
“It’s more cost effective to keep people at home,” O’Leary said, noting, however, that for some families a nursing home is the only option, especially when a parent or elderly relative needs care. Round the clock.
Taking over the reins from O’Leary, Gurgone wants to ensure that MVES continues to serve its entire population and expands to connect to all ethnicities and cultures, and in all languages of the region. His goal ? Understand the needs of its customers and extend services to meet those needs.
Languages spoken: 15
Working in favor of the organization: the staff, already diverse, already speaking two basic languages, Spanish and Mandarin, as well as a range of 13 others spoken in the region.
Gurgone starts his work slightly behind the eighth ball as the COVID-19 pandemic increases again.
“We were hoping it would go away after a year,” Gurgone said.
As the virus persists and mutates, Gurgone will look for creative ways to connect with customers and inform the community of all the services offered by the organization.
Among these services: still Meals on Wheels, still home care, still helping people to age in place. A special program, SHINE, helps people prepare for the transition to Medicare by reviewing additional programs (there are so many) and helps people choose the right one for their health needs and lifestyle.
SHINE is a federally funded counseling program offered free of charge, regardless of income.
In the viewfinder of Gurgone, technological support: both for those who want more technology and options, and for those who want less. She noted that as older adults get younger, many are used to technology.
“We have to build the brand,” Gurgone said.
To this end, brochures and leaflets are published in many languages; the videos target different cultures and populations, there is a hotline for phone calls, and the website can be translated with the click of a mouse.
“And it’s not just Google Translate either, it’s a site-specific program,” Gurgone points out.
The worlds of Gugone come together in its new direction at Mystic Valley. After years of working with women, especially low-income women, Gurgone is now in a position where she can help lift them out of poverty.
“Many of our employees are women,” Gurgone said, noting that the organization can pay them well, enough for them to raise their children and live in dignity.
Passion for work at the service of the person
Passionate about human service work and giving back, Gurgone previously worked as Executive Director of Mass Home Care, and before that as Executive Director of the Home Care Aide Council.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to lead Mystic Valley Elder Services,” said Gurgone. She has some experience working with the outside organization. “It’s so well managed. I am committed to the mission; aging is such an important issue, I’m thrilled to be here and make a difference.
On welcoming Gurgone to the organization, MVES Board Chair Janice Houghton said: “After an extensive research process, it was immediately clear that Lisa was the right fit. We have known her work for years and we know that she will lead us into a new era. Lisa has the qualifications and expertise to make Mystic Valley Elder Services an even bigger and better organization to create lasting impact in our communities. »