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These are some of the most uncertain times we’ve ever seen. For your aging loved one the situation is probably very frightening. How can you be sure that you’re getting the most up to date and accurate information to properly care for them?

In this episode, Tarrant County Commission Gary Fickes discusses community initiatives designed to help seniors and tips to keep your loved one healthy and safe during these difficult times. 

Here Are The Show Highlights:

  • Tips for safeguarding your loved one’s health when they have to be out in the community (14:53)
  • Symptoms that mean you should get your medical condition tested and exactly where to go (15:56)
  • An update on vaccine progress and how your family can get it when they are ready (19:29)

For daily 5-minute mind exercises, head over and like my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/hcafortworth/

You can also find additional support and resources by calling Home Care Assistance at 817-349-7599 or visit our websites https://www.homecareassistancefortworth.com/ and https://itsmyturntocare.com/.

Read Full Transcript

Welcome to “It’s My Turn To Care.” We know the challenges you face caring for someone with dementia. That's why each week we bring you tips, strategies, and most of all, support, as you navigate your role as caregiver. Let's get started. [00:15.6]

Dave: Hello, this is Dave Parks and I'm the owner of Home Care Assistance, and the name of our podcast is It’s My Turn To Care: Secrets for the Dementia Caregiver. I’m a certified senior advisor and our company covers the northern part of Tarrant County, and we take care of people in their home, wherever they call home.

Today, we have a very special guest on our podcast. We have our first elected official, Commissioner Gary Fickes. I’ve known Commissioner Fickes for a few years now. He's the Tarrant County commissioner. He's a native of Houston, Tex. Gary has lived in Northeast Tarrant County since 1979, graduated from Sam Houston State in 1972 with the Bachelor of Science. [01:07.3]

From ’89 to ’96, he served as the mayor of South Lake and he gained hands-on experience in helping build a great community. Then he was elected to the Tarrant County Commission as commissioner in 2006 and reelected and 2008, 2012, 2016, and also in 2020, so he was most recently reelected.
In realizing that Northeast Tarrant County is one of the fastest growing areas in the United States, Commissioner Fickes has set three priorities, transportation, economic development, and healthcare. As commissioner, he also oversees the JPS Health Network. He has been instrumental in establishing five JPS Hospital school-based clinics, the Gertrude Tarpley Health Center in Watauga and the new JPS Medical Home, Northeast Heron and Euless, all with the intent to provide accessible treatment in his precinct for the residents of Tarrant County. [02:09.7]

In 2009, Commissioner Fickes formed a senior task force to address the needs of senior citizens in our community, and find solutions to improve their health and wellbeing. His award-winning Empowering Seniors just celebrated 12 years of providing important health screening, flu shots, informative workshops, and fun entertainment, all at no cost to the attendees, and I personally have participated in that as a sponsor and a vendor, and it's very well done, one of the most organized events I’ve been a part of.

Gary is a 12-year post-transplant patient and is a champion for the nonprofit organization, LifeGift, which supports vital organ donations and procurements. He and wife, Kathy, reside in Colleyville and between them have five children and two grandchildren, and we are actually in location and Gary's office today. It's really a privilege to be here. Gary, welcome to the program. [03:13.8]

Gary: Thank you, Dave, and I’m so happy to be talking with you today. I also just heard that this year’s Northeast Tarrant County Walk for Alzheimer's was the number one walk among the 13 walks in our regions. I know that we were involved a little bit in that and I want to congratulate you and your team. That's incredible that during these kind of tough times that we're facing for fundraising that the walk was able to do that well, and it really speaks well of our community and its businesses, and individuals and the volunteers, who continue to help others during this very tough year.

Dave: Yeah, I agree. We were a little nervous going into the walk, but we feel really good about it and, again, thank you for being our honorary chair for the second year in the row. [04:07.5]

Last year, we actually set a record for giving for that walk and this year we were number one as it relates to performance versus the other walks in the area. I appreciate you mentioning that, that the big winner in all that is the seniors that are suffering from Alzheimer's disease, because they do such a lot of good things for the community, the Alzheimer's Association.

But, anyway, thanks again for being on, and I want to start by maybe talking about one thing that I’ve been involved in that's always been very impressive, and that's empowering seniors and how it's really grown from kind of a small local event to help people in our community connect to resources to really a very large event. I mean, you’ve got some real celebrities that come and support that, Dallas Cowboys. Always look forward to the Dallas Cowboy alumni cheerleaders myself. Can you tell us about the event and why you started it originally? [05:04.1]

Gary: This past year was our 12th year and we went virtual this year, and I’ll tell you a little bit more about that here in a moment, but we had grown this from the first year. We had 300 people, which was about the maximum we could have at that time in the facility, and this was back in 2009.
Last year, in 2019, we had 3,000 people, and for people who have never been, this is a health and lifestyle expo for seniors. We had over 150 exhibitors. We had professional health screenings provided by our local hospitals. We had workshops including our Ask the Doctor series, which has always been our most popular workshop. [06:01.8]

We had 15 different food booths. We had entertainment. We had bingo door prizes. We had a number of local celebrities and sports stars, and we had the Dallas Cowboy alumni cheerleaders. This group, I think, was from early, from the ’70s. We had Art On Wheels and we had a whole lot more. It's a great educational and fun day for everybody involved, and I think the greatest thing about it is it’s free.

Dave: That’s right. That’s right. Sure.

Gary: None of the seniors, you don't have to pay anything to come. You don't have to pay to park. We've even got shuttles that'll pick you up at your car and take you to the front door and take you back. [06:51.2]

But this all kind of started, again, in 2009. We put together a task force of some senior leaders that were in our community and others that also worked with seniors to look at the issues that we might be facing over the next five to 10 years with the aging of baby boomers, and we discussed issues such as senior isolation, transportation, healthcare and so much more.

One of the things that kept coming up was the desire to have some type of event for our local community and our local seniors, where they could get health screenings, and maybe meet local doctors and learn more about what businesses might cater to their needs and what non-profits were out there that they could rely on, and learn about resources. It all kind of boiled down to the word “connectivity” where we connected seniors with the different organizations and the people that could help them. [08:02.8]

Again, it started with 300 people at the Hills Church, and last year, we had 3,000 at Cross City Church, which is located there on Industrial Boulevard at Airport Freeway in the city of Bedford.

Dave: I attended and I think one thing that's great about it is it's not just for seniors. It's for those that can help that are helping care for a loved one, which is a lot of the folks that listen to this podcast, and just really going around and looking for information, understanding what their options are as it relates to care and the health screenings you mentioned, and also the food is really good. There are a lot of great restaurants that come as well.

Gary: We do have some great restaurants that we get involved with who love this event also. [08:58.2]

Dave: Yeah, absolutely. One thing I want to say is there are a lot of people, but it's so well organized. When I showed up the first year, I was really impressed with how organized, even from a vendor perspective, getting in, getting out, there's plenty of people to help you and guide you and that kind of thing, because 3,000 people can be a little bit overwhelming, but it really didn't feel that way at all. It had good entertainment, too, had some entertainment, so a lot of good things about that event. That occurs in October every year.

Gary: It does. It’s the first Friday in October. It's something that seniors look forward to, and I can be it in a grocery store or somewhere and I’ll run into a senior, and I’m a senior, by the way. We visit and so many of them are aware of it, have been to it and are always asking questions about what are we going to do this year or next, for the next one. [10:05.2]

Dave: You did go virtual this year. Did you want to make any additional kind of comments on that?

Gary: I guess when COVID started in March, we started pretty much immediately talking about what we might do. As it kind of went into April and I guess into May, it became pretty obvious that it wasn't going to be. We were not going to be able to do what we normally did and I guess at one point we kind of were to the point where we said, Hey, I guess we'll just cancel.

Then I guess I did a lot of thinking one week in and came back to the office on Monday, and this was probably in May, and I said, “Guys, we can do this. I don't know how, but we can do this virtually with our Facebook. It has been one of our partners. Care 'N Care has been one of our partners. There's somebody out there that can help us do this.” [11:09.2]

We started looking at how to put the pieces together here at the office. We got a number of people involved. John Fletcher, who is one of our very close friends here became very much involved in it and was a huge help to us. He has a company called Fletcher Consulting and he was a big help and kind of being our ringmaster and working to put all the pieces together. We worked with a company that was able to help us on the actual day of the event on just what it took to get it broadcast and we went ahead. [12:00.0]

We started talking to our sponsors. We explained what we were doing. The vast majority of our sponsors were on board, and one of them, Care 'N Care Insurance, joined us again as our title sponsor. I think one of the people that really made this whole thing work was Scott Murray. Scott, if you all recall, sportscaster and has Murray Media, and Scott was a huge help in kind of being our MC. He and I, me following him and him helping tremendously, we were able to do the event that day.

We, again, had our normal group of celebrities, but we had them all virtually. We had Drew Pearson, Neil Sperry, Troy Dungan, Bobbie Wygant, Ruth Buzzi from Laugh-In. She lives in the area. David Finfrock. Rodeo announcer, Bob Tallman. The car guy, Jerry Reynolds. All joined us on our website. [13:05.8]

We had our doctor, “Ask the Doctor” series, and one of the big things we do every year that people really like is bingo. We did bingo, virtually, did a number of bingo games.

So, we were able to continue this and we have it up on a website, and it's up at EmpoweringSeniors.com and you can go to that website, and you can go to any of our vendors that we had or sponsors or any of the interviews we had with the celebrities and kind of see how all that went.

Dave: I’ve seen some events like that one that had been done very well. Another one was a Mid-Cities Care Corps, did their fundraising virtually and I believe we ended up netting about the same as we did when we did it live. I know you're very involved with them as well. [14:00.0]

Let's talk a little bit as someone that's very concerned about seniors in your district, in your precinct. This is a critical time we all know. We're all trying to stay safe. Can you give us an update on COVID and what we can do to keep people safe?

Gary: I think there are some really basic things that we think that Tarrant County and primarily at Tarrant County Hill that are essential. One, wear a mask. Two, social distancing is important. If you think you can get 10 people together at a table in a restaurant and where everybody's right next to each other and be safe, you can't do it. I can assure you, you're not being safe. I think we're in the mass social distancing. Washing our hands and just a lot of good common sense, I think you'll be okay. [14:55.0]

But currently in Tarrant County, the county is offering eight testing centers along in conjunction with other entities. The nearest one to our office here in Northeast is at the NRH2O. That's the waterpark that Northwestern Hills has on Highway 26, just down from our Northeast Courthouse, and they have a gigantic parking lot and that testing site is set up in that parking lot. They move a lot of cars through there. It's one of the busiest testing sites, certainly in Tarrant County, if not the entire metroplex.

We encourage anyone who has been exposed to be tested. If you're exhibiting symptoms such as shortness of breath, fever, headaches, you may want to be tested. Wherever you're listening from in Tarrant County, this website identifies the testing centers and the hours they are open, and this past week we tested over 20,000 people here in Tarrant County and that website is Coronavirus.TarrantCounty.com. Coronavirus [dot] Tarrant County [dot] com. It can tell you where those sites are and what you need to do to be prepared to go to them.

Currently, one out of seven Tarrant County residents who are testing are testing positive. We have a positivity rate right now around 16–17%. That's high. That's way high. Our ICU available beds in Tarrant County as of this morning is somewhere hovering around 20 beds. That's 20 beds for the entire county. If we had one major accident somewhere, we could fill those 20 beds in a matter of an hour or two. Those are ICU beds. [17:06.2]

We have 1,100 available hospital beds, but currently, as of right now, we have 890 confirmed COVID patients in hospital beds as of today. This is a serious situation and it's even more serious if you are a senior who has any kind of underlying conditions and most of us have something.

Dave: Yeah, the testing site, I think, because a lot of people don't like the nose and I know at NRH2O, I don't know about the others, but that's a cheek swab and so it's very efficient. It's very fast. They tell you exactly what to do because I’ve been through there myself, and I actually send my caregivers there. They come to our orientation and then I send my caregivers over there to get tested before we hire them. Yeah, that's a great service the county is providing. [18:03.7]

Gary: The county is, as you've probably heard, we've got a vaccine coming. It should be here and ready to utilize the end of next week. The first part of the following week, in all likelihood, the state is working on the priorities, but it will be to first responders. That would be healthcare responders and fire and police officers.

We are trying to include, Tarrant County is pushing to also include school teachers and school personnel. We think that if you don't do that, then you don't have anybody to teach your kids. We've got so many challenges right now in the education area with these children that are virtually trying to virtually learn, and it works for some, but it doesn't work for all. We want to get the kids back in school, but we want them to be safe and safety is our number one priority. [19:05.8]

It's serious and we need to take it seriously. I don't know if masks help a hundred percent or zero percent, but my guess is they fall somewhere in between there and you're better off with one than without one.

Dave: It is amazing about the vaccine, how it's really just right around the corner.

Gary: Right.

Dave: If you think about the history of vaccines, that's really an astonishing accomplishment.

Gary: It is. It absolutely is and we've got a number of companies that are bringing a vaccine to the forefront. I think the real listing dates to get everybody covered on vaccines probably will take us not just into the spring, but probably into the early summer. We’ve got 2 million people in Tarrant County. I don't know how many will want to be vaccinated. I hope that it's a significant number. [19:57.5]

Dave: Yeah, I read that, not necessarily Tarrant County, but in the United States, 64% of people are favorable to the vaccine, which is actually a little bit less than in the UK where it's about 75%, on which I think the proof is in the pudding. When people, if they get the vaccine and they know people, have friends, and they're not getting sick and they will be like, Okay, I’ll go now. Maybe there will be kind of a second wave.

Gary: I think you're exactly right that as this goes along over the next six to eight months, I think we'll see that increase happen. But when you really think of that, really looking at the big picture, we’ve got, what, seven or eight billion? That's billion with a B across the world that need to be vaccinated.

Dave: There’s so much going on in the County right now and there's a lot of information I know your office provides. If someone needs more information, where should they call? Where should they go on the web? [20:58.8]

Gary: Okay, they can go to Tarrant County Health by going to www.TarrantCounty.com. If they want to call our office, (817) 248-6295. If they want the Corona 19 hotline, that is (817) 248-6299, and that is answered 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Dave: Very good. Any parting thoughts, Commissioner? I had a conversation yesterday with our chief entomologist and I was asking him, I said, “Have you had a day off?” and he said, “I took Thanksgiving Day off and that's the first day I’ve taken off since the middle of March.” These people in our public health, he's like all the others. Everybody is pretty much working all the time to make Tarrant County as safe as we can. It's a true challenge. It's a challenge that I or nobody would have ever dreamed we would be in a situation like this. [22:15.5]

Dave: Absolutely.

Gary: It affects our seniors probably more than anybody and we're the ones, the seniors need to be most aware of it, because if you do the simple thing, mask, social distance, wash your hands, common sense, you're going to be all right.

Dave: Thanks so much for being on. It's really an honor to be here in your office and to have you on our program, It’s My Turn To Care: Secrets for the Dementia Caregiver. This is Dave parks, owner of Home Care Assistance, and we appreciate you listening and we will be with you next week. Thanks so much. [22:58.1]

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