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Short senior visits make a big difference

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Weaverville Tribune and Asheville Tribune: November 2016

By Heather Berry

Buncombe County – With 2016 just begun, now is the time to commit to volunteer activities which will make the community a
better place for everyone. Nursing homes, in particular, struggle for volunteers. The large elderly population in northern Buncombe County is often neglected in ways big and small. Even short weekly visits with local senior citizens who don’t often receive visitors is a simple way for community volunteers to make a big difference.

Former Weaverville Town Council member Gene Knoefel encourages residents to consider helping by simply visiting
area senior citizens who may not have much regular company. According to Knoefel, volunteers needn’t feel uncomfortable about
spending time with strangers. “I always look for open doors, knock and introduce myself. Asking about the food will break the ice,” he said. “Often, while visiting nursing homes, we run across seniors who just want to talk.

“A lot of people in nursing homes don’t have family and they are happy for anyone to come in and talk for a bit,” Knoefel continued. Knoeful, who has devoted countless hours, himself, volunteering with the non-profi t Land of Sky Regional Council: Area Agency on Aging, regularly visits Buncombe County nursing
homes where he pays close attention to the care seniors receive. According to Knoefel, volunteers also help as an extra pair of eyes. Often, said Knoefel, senior citizens in nursing homes
are nervous about complaining about workers. Land of Sky is comprised of four Western North Carolina counties: Buncombe, Madison, Henderson and Transylvania. Land of Sky’s board of directors is made up of one representative from each county and each municipality within each county.
Knoefel has been appointed, at different times, as the representative for the Town of Weaverville and for Buncombe County. Currently, Knoefel serves on the Buncombe County Community Advisory Committee.

“I feel very fortunate that my peers also appointed me to the Land of Sky executive committee,” said Knoefel. “When they found out about my background, I was nominated to the county community advisory committee on nursing homes and the Buncombe County Commissioners appointed me to this committee. “A good part of my working career was in aging,” continued Knoefel. “Much of it was in the regulatory and fiscal side for the State of California.” Knoefel has a professional history
where he served as a watchdog for hospitals and nursing homes in California. He also contributed to legislation geared toward nursing home reforms. “I was assistant to the chief in California’s
state licensing and certification program which inspects hospitals
and nursing homes and certifies them to participate in Medicare and Medicaid,” Knoefel explained. “We would issue citations where there were code violations.”

A native of Buncombe County, Knoefel has continued working to
make area nursing homes compliant with state regulations since his move back home for retirement.