Staff members at United Neighborhood Centers of Northeastern Pennsylvania recognize the struggles senior citizens may be facing during the COVID-19 pandemic and are doing their part to help.

The Scranton-based nonprofit is conducting free, confidential mental and emotional health screenings to identify resources that may be useful to older adults.

Sarah Bodnar, director of community health and aging at UNC, feels the program will fill a big need in the community.

“Seniors have been isolated for almost a year, and disconnected from their friends and families, due to them being the highest-risk population for COVID,” she said. “We recognize mental health barriers such as depression, anxiety and grief are hitting the entire country at an exponential rate right now, but especially the seniors. We want to connect with them to make sure their emotional, mental and social health is addressed.”

In addition to receiving the support they may need, people age 60 and older who complete the screening will be entered to win a gift card.

The screenings are being offered through a $37,500 grant from the United Way, Bodnar said.

“United Way is supporting UNC in providing behavioral health navigation for seniors,” she said. “They are funding this initiative to pay close attention to seniors’ mental health through a variety of avenues, and one of those is screening them using the Beck Depression Inventory, an evidence-based screening tool for depression.”

Through a 21-question process, which will take about five to 10 minutes, the social worker will evaluate each person and have an additional discussion, if needed, Bodnar said.

“Depending on how they score, we’ll talk to them about the resources available — from our peer support programs to outpatient counseling services — and help connect them to those resources,” she said.

To complete the screening, call 570-346-6203, ext. 111. During the call, seniors will talk with a licensed social worker from UNC.

Gary Drapek, president and CEO of United Way of Lackawanna and Wayne Counties, noted several local organizations have been conducting phone checks since March.

“The idea is reaching out to seniors to let them know they’re not alone and to check to see if they’re healthy, have enough food and if they’re warm,” he said.

Contact the writer:; 570-348-9131