River Forest municipal government must commit to addressing the growing needs of its aging population and invest more time and resources to improve their quality of life, Village President Catherine Adduci said Monday.

In her state-of-the-village address, Adduci suggested a two-prong approach. First, she asked Village Administrator Eric Palm and his staff to work with trustees to find ways in which the village could help seniors most in need with these simple tasks. She mentioned snow and debris removal as avenues to help seniors remain in their homes. 

The other emphasis will be on expanding training for police and fire department personnel and emergency dispatch employees, so they gain a greater understanding of people with dementia. 

Training sessions such as these, she said, would offer staff “a very approachable way to better communicate with those suffering from the disease.”

Adduci’s emphasis on seniors comes just a couple of weeks before River Forest and Oak Park conduct their annual week of saluting seniors, called Celebrating Seniors. A shade more than 18 percent of the village’s population is over the age of 60. 

Nearly one-quarter of them need some form of assistance, according to the most recent U.S. Census Bureau figures. Those figures will only continue to grow in the years to come.  

“We are in the customer or human services business, and so we need to assess how River Forest village government can focus more on improving our residents’ quality of life,” Adduci said. “Having a better quality of life where residents enjoy living here will only strengthen our property value and help us stabilize our property taxes.” 

A committee of the whole village board could be called so that law enforcement and other public safety personnel can explain the challenges and the opportunities that the departments face in helping residents at risk.

Training efforts also could also address working with the mentally ill.

Adduci said the suggestion of instruction came about during discussions with residents. Through their current work, police and fire already are trained on preventing and intervening in a crisis before it escalates. The work she is proposing will augment that.

“Knowing some of what to expect, how to deal with the confusion, the fear and the special needs of dementia patients, for instance, is of the utmost importance,” Adduci said. “The hope is for our public safety personnel to be able to differentiate between dementia, a medical emergency or intoxication, for instance.”

Police already undergo crisis intervention training, where officers can assess whether someone may need medical or mental assistance, Deputy Police Chief James O’Shea said. A total of 31 police personnel take between 200 and 320 total hours of training monthly. 

“We would welcome that subject specific training. It is a great idea,” O’Shea said. 

 In a brief interview after the meeting, trustee Susan Conti also said these were great ideas. 

“Helping seniors in little ways would be good for the community, said Conti, who still hoped that River Forest would provide affordable senior housing. 

There is no set date on when the ideas will be brought to the board table.

Most of Adduci’s address – her third such speech since becoming village president in 2013 — centered on village initiatives, such as setting a strategy for the Madison Street Tax Increment Finance district, forming a similar district along North Avenue, drafting a redevelopment agreement for the site at Lake and Lathrop and improving village property at Lake and Park. The long-awaited opening of Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market will take place in mid-summer.

The village also will get an updated and easier to use website to finish up its communications plan and revise its comprehensive plan.

On May 8, Adduci was sworn in for her second term as village president. Tom Cargie was sworn in for his second term as trustee, while newcomers Patty Henek and Respicio Vazquez will be first-term trustees and Kathleen White will be the first-term clerk.

Outgoing Clerk Sharon Halperin was also recognized as was Trustee Tom Dwyer. Roma Colwell Steinke also was recognized for eight years of service – four as clerk and four as trustee.

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