Ratzlaff brings changes to department for seniors

You can observe some Marion senior citizens going through tai chi movements each Monday, thanks to a program introduced in fall by Gayla Ratzlaff, head of the Marion County Department on Aging.

Ratzlaff attended a workshop on falls put on by the state in an effort to develop community programs that would reduce falls in the 60-plus age group.

One of the presenters was Rich Hanley, director of the Harvey County Department on Aging, who spoke about the benefits of tai chi for senior citizens as a way improve their balance and possibly prevent falls.

Ratzlaff thought teaching tai chi was something she could do to help 60-plus individuals in Marion County stay in their own home longer.

She is presently gearing up to offer tai chi at the Hillsboro and Goessel senior centers. Tai chi is comprised of movements that the individual learns in a six-week class.

The individual can then do the movements on their own or, as the Marion seniors have done, get together after lunch to go through them together as a group to keep seniors refreshed about the movements.

The Marion County senior citizens program began with grant money in 1960. The result of this funding is 10 senior centers in Marion County located at Burns, Durham, Florence, Goessel, Hillsboro, Lincolnville, Marion, Peabody, Ramona and Tampa.

Four of the centers?Goessel, Marion, Peabody and Hillsboro?are nutrition sites that serve a noon meal Monday through Friday.

Ratzlaff?s office is located at the Marion Senior Center, but she tries to go out to the various centers every couple of months to help with prescription drug enrollment in the fall, Home?stead and food sales tax refund in the winter and noon programs for the senior centers.

Early in her tenure, which will be three years in April, Ratzlaff asked the Senior Citizens of Marion County Inc. board about changing the department name from Department for Elderly to Department on Aging.

Because the board was open to the change, she brought the proposal before the county commissioners, who agreed on the change.

?Whether or not we want to admit it, we are all aging,? she said about the reason for the change, but not all seniors consider themselves to be ?elderly.?

Ratzlaff has offered a class for pre-retirees about government retirement programs. She said she is looking to revamp the format to offer all the information in one night instead of four evenings.

Ratzlaff is available to meet with individuals who are looking at retiring in the next year and wanting to discuss Medicare Supplemental plans plus Prescription Drug plans.

?It can get confusing when you start talking about Medicare Part A and B, and then add it with Medicare Supplemental plans which are titled A, B, C, G plans and so on,? she said.

The department also provides transportation for individuals age 60 and over to doctor appointments, the grocery store and other errands they have.

Because the transportation is provided by volunteer drivers, individuals need to call 24 hours ahead of their appointment to make arrangements. A contribution is suggested for the service.

A transportation committee comprised of an SCMC board member plus individuals from the four nutrition sites help oversee the program along with transportation coordinator Lanell Hett.

The department started setting aside funds in 2008 to purchase a new van. The van is used by senior centers and other 60-plus groups for day excursions around Kansas.

Ratzlaff also provides information for families and individuals about the programs and services available to them in the county.

The department also produced a resource guide last spring describing those services and agencies. The guide is available from the department or at local senior centers.

Ratzlaff also works the case manager from the North Central-Flint Hills Area Agency on Aging in helping individuals connect with services.

?We hope people will call us first so we can direct them to the services, which will help them in not making so many phone calls trying to connect with the right services and agencies,? Ratzlaff said.

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