Jackie McCoy, 61, right, speaks with Nancy Brosemer, mental health programs manager with Homage, on Thursday, May 30, 2024, at the Carl Gipson Center in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Jackie McCoy, 61, right, speaks with Nancy Brosemer, mental health programs manager with Homage, on Thursday, May 30, 2024, at the Carl Gipson Center in Everett, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)

Free therapy service for seniors strives to meet soaring demand

Post-pandemic, seniors continue to struggle with isolation, anxiety and depression. Homage is working to bridge the gap in Snohomish County.

EVERETT — When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Jackie McCoy was terrified to leave her house.

In fact, McCoy, 61, remembers the last day she left her house without worry: March 5, 2020.

For the next two years, she only ventured outside for doctor’s appointments and grocery runs. McCoy has sickle cell trait, and while she doesn’t have sickle cell disease, the blood condition could lead to health complications if she caught the deadly virus.

“I sat down and said, ‘Well, I’m just going to die,’” she said.

Now, with the help of a free therapy service for older adults, she’s stepping out again. There, she met Nancy Brosemer.

“People were just giving up,” said Brosemer, mental health programs manager at Homage Senior Services. “We’d say, ‘We’re gonna get through this, but let us help you. We’ll work together.’ Then people realized they’re not isolated. They’re not alone.”

Brosemer and a team of four therapists provide the only free mental health services for Snohomish County’s population of 125,000 older adults, age 60 and above, the largest age group in the county. The nonprofit serves 10 senior and community centers in 10 cities with in-person and phone therapy, as well as mental health presentations.

In May, the Cambia Health Foundation granted Homage $150,000 to hire another therapist and expand its services across the county, including more rural areas. The nonprofit is now working to decide on the new service locations, Brosemer said.

In 2022, McCoy began facing her fears. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she’d venture to the Carl Gipson Center in Everett to play cards with other seniors and talk with Brosemer. Aside from fear and isolation, McCoy was working through the loss of a close friend, as well as anxiety about other friends who could get sick.

More than any other demographic in the U.S., older adults are more prone to lasting mental health issues related to COVID-19, including loneliness, depression, anxiety, sleep disturbance and suicidal ideation, according to a narrative review the National Library of Medicine published in 2022.

“Forcing yourself to come out after COVID was really hard,” Brosemer said. “Isolation and loneliness, it still continues. Isolation was present even before COVID. We had individuals whose families passed on, or their children may live elsewhere and they never get to see them.”

A rise in serious health problems, like heart attacks and strokes, can also cause depression and anxiety, Brosemer said.

Out of five mental health programs countywide, Homage’s free therapy for low-income, uninsured or under-insured older adults is the most sought-after. It’s a short-term program, often serving as a bridge while helping clients find long-term services.

“Mental health counseling is very hard to come by,” Brosemer said. “Since the pandemic, providers have either left or their waitlists are full.”

Homage served 752 therapy clients in 2023. The need is only growing.

“We’ve got like 197 more referrals this year,” Brosemer saidlast week. “Right now, we have more clients than we do money.”

McCoy now has a long-term therapist, and works at AARP helping fellow older adults find jobs. Brosemer still stops by Carl Gipson to visit McCoy while she plays cards. It gets everyone at the table talking, McCoy said, like group counseling.

“COVID made mental health less stigmatized,” Brosemer said. “Everybody’s like, ‘It’s OK not to be OK.’ So let’s talk about it.”

Sydney Jackson: 425-339-3430; sydney.jackson@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @_sydneyajackson.

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