01/12/14 — Cuts hurt elderly

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Cuts hurt elderly

By Steve Herring
Published in News on January 12, 2014 12:06 AM

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Andrew McKinnie boards the GATEWAY van to go home after spending some time at the Peggy M. Seegars Senior Center on Thursday.

At a time when Wayne County Services on Aging has experienced a nearly fourfold increase in members, it has also had to contend with nearly $30,000 in state and federal budget cuts.

Since the new Senior Center opened on East Ash Street in October 2012, the number of people using the center has jumped from 337 to 1,178.

The cuts have affected transportation services and in-home aides the most, and more reductions could be coming.

"All I have been told is that there might be more cuts -- nothing definite and no amounts mentioned," Services on Aging Director Eryn McAuliffe said.

Ms. McAuliffe said she also understands that the GATEWAY bus/van system is considering changing its rates.

Currently, Services on Aging is paying a flat rate, but it is possible GATEWAY might switch to a per-mile rate system.

The Services on Aging Advisory Board is scheduled to meet next week to discuss ways to handle the expected rate increase.

"Nothing will be decided until then," Ms. McAuliffe said. "Medical rides, dialysis and doctor appointments, are our priority and have not been cut. We did not add any new general transportation riders, but did not cut any current riders.

"If we lost a rider due to death, moving out of area, etc., we did not add a new rider in their place. We are trying to decrease riders through attrition."

Because of those changes, the wait list has grown almost 100 percent to 36 senior citizens waiting to ride the van, she said.

Services on Aging provides three levels of in-home aide care.

Level II and III involve senior citizens who need hands-on assistance with activities of daily living in order to stay home -- such as help with bathing, dressing etc., Ms. McAuliffe said.

"We have prioritized Level II and III," she said. "We have not cut any Level II or III clients. Our Level I clients receive assistance with housekeeping tasks such as vacuuming and grocery shopping. These clients are higher functioning and do not need help with personal care.

"We have decreased hours for Level I clients. If we lose a Level I client, we do not replace them. Our Level I service is decreasing. I would like to note that this is not a maid service. We have Level I clients with rheumatoid arthritis who can't vacuum, and legally blind clients who can't grocery shop."

There are 133 people on the waiting list which is "pretty steady," she said.

"The reasons for this is we are no longer adding Level I clients to the wait list," she said. "In addition, it takes one to two years to get Level II or III service, and some people end up placed in facilities or passed away before they get service."

The services offered at the center are free of charge to all Wayne County residents age 60 and older.

During county budget discussions last March, Commissioner Joe Daughtery asked if user fees have ever been considered for people using the Senior Center.

There has not been any other discussion of charging fees -- it would result in the loss of grant funding for the center, Ms. McAuliffe said.

"However, seniors are encouraged to share in the cost of the service," she said. "Any money they contribute is used directly to provide more service."