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‘She has been a Godsend’ | Community profile

In light of the recent tragedy in Japan, now is a good time to be thinking about being prepared in case of such an event happening at our front door.

Beth Cordova was recently honored with the citizen volunteer award by the Mercer Island Police Department for her work coordinating emergency preparedness for the various senior living facilities on Mercer Island.

Jennifer Franklin, emergency preparedness officer for MIPD, said due to the fact that there are a limited number of public staff on the Island, she needed to create different teams to meet various needs in a crisis.

“She has been a Godsend,” Franklin said of Cordova. “I just let her run with it. She really keeps them (senior living facilities) motivated.”

Beth, where are you from originally? I am from Queens, New York, but I’ve been living in Seattle since 1980. I feel like a Seattle-ite. My husband, Marc, and I have lived on Mercer Island for 30 years. We have two sons, Alan, 27, and Lee, 24.

Tell me about your education. I have a masters degree in social work from the University of Wisconsin, Madison. I also have a certificate in gerontology from UW. I’ve been a medical social worker, worked in a family service agency doing counseling and a volunteer for Jewish family services. I’ve been a geriatric social worker for 10 years. I was also a para-pro at Island Park Elementary, working with the kindergarten and first grade teachers.

Where do you work? I’ve been with the Summit at First Hill, part of Kline-Galland Center. It is under the spectrum of independent and assisted living. We have a nursing home in Seward Park and a hospice program.

Why do you have such a passion for seniors? It probably started when I worked in a hospital in New Haven. They were vulnerable because they had major illnesses. As a social worker, I would match them with the resources they needed. I helped them navigate many systems. Thirty years ago, many of the programs we have today didn’t exist or were in their infancy.

Tell me about your work on the Island. I volunteer for Jennifer Franklin. My position is senior care co-leader. Our responsibility is to make sure that an emergency shelter is set up to address specific needs for seniors. I have to try my very best to make sure the (senior) community is prepared. For example, right now I am working with the senior center on outreach to locate those people who would need help in a crisis.

How did you get involved with the city’s programs? FEMA had some grants for vulnerable populations. I applied for a $25,000 grant and got it. There’s five facilities now that have a memorandum of understanding that spells out what happens when disaster strikes. We cannot rely on the hospitals — they’re going to have their own issues. I want to turn the message to the public for heightened awareness due to the crisis in Japan. You and I might say that’s (seniors) a vulnerable situation, but they often don’t think they are.

Why do you think you received the award? The reason I think I got that award is I’m trying to help organize a coalition (Mercer Island long-term care disaster coalition) of all the adult care, nursing and assisted living facilities on Mercer Island. They are all in competition, but we’re talking about intense, critical issues. We’re getting to know each other, so we’ve formed a memorandum of understanding to have an emergency operations plan. It’s a model for other cities to use. These are facilities for a very vulnerable population.

Do you think the senior facilities on Mercer Island are prepared in case of a catastrophe like the one we are witnessing in Japan? I think we’re in a better place than we were a year ago, but preparedness is always a work in progress. There’s a push from the state side, but also from the local side. I think if we had a major incident we’d all be in a lot of trouble.

What natural disasters are you most concerned about that could occur on Mercer Island? Earthquake, definitely. Another concern would be a hazardous spill on I-90. Many facilities are right on I-90. One of the things we’re working on now is for everyone (long-term care facilities) to get a UHF radio. The school district has one. There’s many, many layers of consideration, but what’s really important is, could anyone or any business have enough personal supplies to last for seven days without outside help?

Editor’s note: If you know anyone you would be concerned about in a disaster, call Cordova at (206) 232-0738 or Betsy Zuber at Mercer Island Youth and Family Services, at (206) 236-3525.

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