Nowhere is this more important than in Europe’s remote rural and border regions. Older generations are often left living alone after children and grandchildren move to cities. And it’s also in these areas that social services are more likely to lack the resources they need.

Latvia and Lithuania

In the Latvian-Lithuanian border region, an EU-funded project called Ageing in Comfort has stepped up to the mark.

Social workers visit elderly people in remote rural areas to provide free home-based social care. They’re equipped with special vehicles that include everything from a washing machine to cooking and cleaning facilities.

From the offset, the project aimed to provide care for 1,300 people, but was quickly widened to include 45,000 inhabitants from across 6 municipalities in Latvia and Lithuania.

Ageing in Comfort in the Latvia-Lithuania border region © European Union, 2020

Ageing in Comfort in the Latvia-Lithuania border region © European Union, 2020

The onset of coronavirus

The project wasn’t up and running for long before the pandemic hit. Yet, the team didn’t shy away from the challenge. Instead, care teams managed to widen their circle of customers from an initial 3 per day, to around 4-5.

“The provision of services was not interrupted during the restriction period related to COVID-19,” stresses Laila Vilmane from the Latvian Office of Euroregion ‘Country of lakes,’ which manages the project.

As the weeks and months went by, it became increasingly clear that the crisis wasn’t just negatively affecting seniors. Right across the border region, many others were suffering at the hands of the virus, in terms of both their physical and mental health.

To remedy this, Ageing in Comfort expanded their scope to include vulnerable and lonely people, as well as families in need.

For many, deliveries of food and medicine turned out to be a lifeline during lockdown. Small tokens of care, such as keeping in contact via a phone call, gave people reassurance that they’re not alone, reaffirming a sense of belonging in society.

EU social support

EU funding is also helping the Ageing in Comfort project develop further. Specialised equipment for home care services has been purchased and a study exchange programme has been set-up with Sweden, so that teams can participate in training sessions and share best practices.

Receiving quality care shouldn’t depend on where you live. Thanks to EU support, projects like Ageing in Comfort can make sure that society’s most vulnerable receive the health and social care they need.

Ageing in Comfort in Latvia-Lithuania border region © European Union, 2020

Ageing in Comfort in Latvia-Lithuania border region © European Union, 2020

Bulgaria

Bulgaria ranks among the top ten countries in the world with the most ageing population. The elderly living in small remote villages often have to rely on external assistance.

Patronage Care is an EU-funded service that is managed by local authorities in 226 Bulgarian municipalities. It provides vulnerable people with medical and day-to-day support. And their help has never been more valuable than throughout the coronavirus crisis.

Patronage Care in Bulgaria © Municipality of Kyustendil in Bulgaria, 2020

Patronage Care in Bulgaria © Municipality of Kyustendil in Bulgaria, 2020

Support deployed nationwide

A few days after Bulgaria entered a strict national lockdown, Patronage Care mobilised support teams to help those in need.

As the EU allocated additional funds to the fight against coronavirus, the service could cover those with a disability and those who needed to quarantine. This meant that 35,000 more people could be helped.

Essential goods and medication were delivered to peoples’ doorsteps. Administrative support was available for those who needed help with the payment of household bills. And the visits provided some extra company and warmth that many living in isolation so desperately longed for.

“When I’m in need, I call the service and everything - food, medical supplies - is delivered on the dot. Everything is perfect on both sides, we are very pleased,’’ says Valentin Zharkov, aged 60, who has received help from Patronage Care.

Patronage Care in Bulgaria © Managing Authority of Operational Programme Human Resources Development, 2020

Patronage Care in Bulgaria © Managing Authority of Operational Programme Human Resources Development, 2020

Benefits for everyone

Thanks to additional EU support, nobody has been left behind, no matter where they live. In the mountainous Kyustendil province, at least 940 people living in social isolation have received aid. This has been a lifeline to many, as the virus has hit the region hard.

“We do everything possible to protect these people, to keep them home and to give them the opportunity to live a full life,” says Krasimira Tockeva, social assistant at Patronage Care Dupnisa Municipality.”

With thousands more people requiring help, Patronage Care needed to expand their team. They used EU funds to offer temporary employment to job seekers, many of whom had faced hardships due to the pandemic. In this way, EU support benefits even more people.