Senior Centers Forced To Dig Deeper Into Their Pockets

Elderly Members Asked To Help With Expenses By Car Pooling, Donating

March 27, 1991|By Anne Haddad | Anne Haddad,Staff writer

Seniors who rely on services provided by the county Department of Aging will be asked to pitch in more to help themselves and their friends as money gets tight for the agency.

Although the County Commissioners have restored some of the money they had cut from the meals program and legal services, the department still faces state cuts and costs that are rising faster than income.

Department of Aging Director Jolene Sullivan and her staff will conduct hearings in April at the county's seven senior centers to explain the cuts and ask elderly members to help car pool, use the bus system more efficiently and increase contributions for meals if they can afford to.

Some are already cutting expenses. In North Carroll and Finksburg senior centers, members sometimes cook their own meals or bring food one day a week to save buying food prepared by the New Windsor Service Center or Board of Education.

Those and other centers are also raising money through dances and craft sales, using the proceeds for special parties. The Westminster Supper Club raised $60 for a Valentine's party by selling yellow bows during the Persian Gulfwar.

"It's really hard going through these cutbacks," Sullivan said. "But I try to look at it in a positive light. It gives us an opportunity to look at what we do, to streamline and be more efficient."

Some programs have little room for cuts. A 31 percent reduction inthe state grant that helps seniors cut through the red tape of Medicare and insurance slashes the program from $14,700 for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, to $10,308 for fiscal 1992.

The money pays for one part-time staff member whose hours might have to be cut, leaving less time to train and support volunteers, Sullivan said.

"It's a godsend for us," said Betty Danner, 56, of Westminster, of the Senior Health Insurance Counseling program.

"Unless you have a Ph.D. in filling out forms, I don't know how they expect elderly people to do it. I can't do it," Danner said of the paper work she had to fill out for her 76-year-old mother's Medicare and insurance plans. "I tried to do it one Sunday, and I nearly sat there and cried."

Sullivan and Assistant Director Jan Flora said one solution could be to ask seniors to make donations for the insurance counseling service, based on money the service helps recoup for them.

This year, program coordinator Susan G. Cronin and her volunteers recovered of $100,000 in insurance payments for seniors, Flora said.

"We hope people will donate to the best of their ability, but if you're paying someone's salary, you need to have a (consistent) source of revenue todo that," Flora said.

Other programs affected are:

* Transportation -- The county may cut about $20,000 from the budget used for buses that take seniors at reduced fares to doctors' offices, grocery stores and other errands. That translates to 12,000 miles, or one month of service.

The effect could be as bad as shutting down for a week four times a year, Sullivan said. But she is looking at alternatives that might make the current bus system more efficient and encourage more car-pooling.

* Life Enrichment -- A crew of 152 volunteers regularly visited 458 Carroll seniors living in nursing homes over the past year, all coordinated by one full-time staff person who also trains the volunteers. The volunteers chat, play cards and generally keep company with the nursing home residents, many of whom don't have family living nearby.

Program support is being cut 58 percent by the state, down to a grant of $8,517.

With few costs other than salary for the coordinator, the department will have to look at restructuring the program somehow, Sullivan said, and may ultimately have fewer volunteers because of a reduction in staff time to train them.

* Meals -- Although the commissioners restored a cut that would have meant 2,000 fewer meals a year, the program faces rising costs, withno new money coming for the fiscal year starting in July, Flora said.

"There is potentially an increase in cost of food and usage," Flora said. The senior population is increasing, she said, and more seniors are using the new center that opened in January in Taneytown andother centers.

The meals are paid for by a combination of federal, state and county money, plus some donations from seniors.

The Older Americans Act, which provides more than $45,000 in federal money for the meals, also prohibits the department from charging for them. But the law allows them to ask for donations from the seniors.

Theaverage donation in Carroll is $1.25, which is higher than the statewide average of 68 cents, Sullivan said. But the cost of each meal isabout $3.30. Most of the meals come from the New Windsor Service Center.

Some seniors who can afford it pay close to the full price, but the federal program that pays for most of the meals doesn't allow the department to set up a sliding fee or any other formal payment orallocation program, Sullivan said.

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