Cathy Knight
Director of Aging and Disability Services for Seattle-King County
Tuesday, March 24, 2020
Section: COVID-19 Resources

Recently, n4a began interviewing AAA directors from the hardest-hit areas of the country to learn how they prepared for and are addressing COVID-19 outbreaks in their communities.
Read our interview with Cathy Knight, Director of Aging and Disability Services for Seattle-King County. As Cathy says during the interview, it is times like this “when you understand what it means to be mission driven.”

Because Cathy and AAAs in Washington state have been on the front lines of working with older adults as COVID-19 first entered the country, we have made the interview available in two ways: Listen to Cathy’s telling if you’re able, or read the following short summary if you have less time to spare. We hope you will find hearing from a peer especially compelling during this challenging time, and Cathy is bound to inspire you!  
Where Do Things Stand in Your State?
When we interviewed Cathy last week, she noted that it had only been three weeks since COVID-19 had been identified in her community—the first in the country to face issues related to coronavirus. So, as she and her team were constantly learning new information about COVID-19, the state’s 13 AAAs immediately went into action mode and shared information with one another.
What Advice Do You Have for Your AAA Peers in Other States?
  • If you haven’t already, establish relationships with local public health officials. Cathy noted that her AAA’s partnerships with local public health officials, the county and the state, enabled her AAA to have immediate access to messaging and much-needed guidelines that can be shared internally and in the community. Make sure these partners know the important role AAAs play in helping ensure the needs of older adults are addressed.
  • Communicate early, consistently and clearly. Following the guidance of local public health officials on social distancing and other issues is a must. Having clear messaging from the beginning has helped the community feel as if someone has a handle on the situation.
  • Convene regular meetings and calls. Cathy’s team quickly learned that regular and frequent communication with the state’s AAAs, State Unit on Aging and provider partners were not only helpful but essential to ensuring everyone stayed on the same page. Cathy noted that the creation of an Older Adult Task Force consisting of advocates, community-based organizations, governmental entities and others has helped the state’s AAAs identify how various programs and services such as those addressing food, housing, social isolation, personal care needs and more might be affected by COVID-19.
  • Review your continuity of operations plan. Given that these plans typically focus on natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods, AAAs may need to adjust these plans to meet the realities of the COVID-19 crisis, particularly as limits on person-to-person contact are put in place. As many AAAs have, Cathy noted that her AAA had to revisit meals programs.
  • Take steps to minimize duplication. With information about COVID-19 changing and being released so frequently, it can be easy to duplicate and step on toes. This is where having regular meetings and calls with stakeholders in place helps.
  • Tap expertise from retired AAA staff. As AAA staff around the country mobilize to address COVID-19 locally, Cathy recommends tapping past AAA staff for ideas, support and assistance. Oftentimes, these past AAA staff are paying keen attention to what is happening and want to get involved.
What Has Been the Most Helpful Action, Resource or Advice for Your Agency or State Network of AAAs as You’ve Worked to Navigate This Public Health Emergency?
Cathy notes that her AAA’s connections with other AAAs in the state helped the state’s AAAs deliver a cohesive message. The crisis has also led to Washington’s AAAs strengthening their relationships with the State Unit on Aging.
What’s the Biggest Lesson You’ve Learned?
Cathy says this crisis has highlighted the importance of checking in with staff on a regular basis—and making sure that they are taking things one day at a time. Despite the rapid pace of changes during this crisis, the old adage of “this is a marathon, not a sprint” comes into play here because Cathy and her mission-driven team are committed to helping the community stay healthy while keeping vital programs running, which takes many hours and can be emotionally draining. Cathy reminds her staff that they will be addressing the COVID-19 crisis for long time—and they will need to take things one day at a time as the crisis evolves.