Cutting the budget: Local Area Agency on Aging cuts staff, while waiting list for its in-home services balloons
TOWANDA - As a result of budget cuts, a waiting list of seniors seeking help from a local agency is growing, affecting its ability to provide what could be critical assistance in the event of an emergency.
There is now a waiting list of 150 older people who are trying to obtain in-home services from the local Area Agency on Aging, such as a "personal emergency response device" that would summon help if the individual fell or experienced a medical emergency, a handicapped access ramp that the individual needs because he or she can't climb stairs anymore, or a personal care aide to help the individual cook or take a bath.
So says local Area Agency on Aging Executive Director Bill Farley, who added that "most of the waiting list happened (formed) after July 1," when a cut in state funding forced the local Area Agency on Aging to eliminate $700,000 in expenditures from its Fiscal Year 2012-2103 budget.
"We have less money for direct services, like home delivered meals," while the demand for those services is the same, Farley said, explaining why the size of the waiting list has ballooned since July 1.
The $700,000 cut in the FY 2012-13 budget, which runs from July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, has had other consequences, too, including the recent layoff of 20 percent of the local Area Agency on Aging's full-time staff, and a reduction in the frequency of delivery of hot noon-time meals to the elderly, said Farley.
In late July, the local Area Agency on Aging - which serves Bradford, Sullivan, Susquehanna and Tioga counties - reduced the frequency of delivering hot noon-time meals in Bradford and Tioga counties from five to three days a week, Farley said. Clients still get five meals a week delivered to them, but they get a frozen meal to put in their freezers for the days that they don't get a hot meal, he said.
"They get the same number of meals as before," but they are delivered less frequently, he said.
Some clients had been getting their meals delivered seven days a week, and they too have seen a reduction in the number of days that meals are delivered to their homes, Farley said.
The $700,000 cut represents about 10 percent of the B-S-S-T Area Agency on Aging's overall expenditures for the current year, he said.
The state funding cut occurred because the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services required the state to change its methodology for reimbursing Area Agencies on Aging for the service coordination work that they do when using Medicaid waiver dollars, Farley said. The Medicaid waiver dollars allow senior citizens to stay in their homes and get services, instead of going to a nursing home, Farley said.
It would cost more than $225,000 a year to eliminate the waiting list for in-home services, Farley said.
The B-S-S-T Area Agency on Aging has been financially squeezed because the demand for its services has continued to increase while the amount of money it receives from its two main sources of funding - the Pennsylvania lottery, and the aging waiver program - has either stayed the same or decreased, he said.
Fueling the increase in the demand for the AAA's services is the growth in the population of people age 60 and older in the area, which now constitute 25 percent of the population, Farley said.
"The number of people where we live who are age 60 or older increased by 20 percent from the 2000 Census to the 2010 Census," Farley noted.
There could be even further spending cuts made this year at the B-S-S-T Area Agency on Aging. Farley said.
"We're still evaluating to determine if we need to make any further cuts," Farley said.
Two years ago, the B-S-S-T Area Agency on Aging was converted from a government agency to a non-profit agency because it was becoming increasingly evident that government funding would not be able to meet the growing need of the older population for services, Farley said.
As a non-profit agency, the B-S-S-T Area Agency on Aging can raise money from the private sector to help pay for the provision of services, Farley said.
Donations can be made to the B-S-S-T Area Agency on Aging to, for example, help get seniors off the waiting list for in-home services, or to provide them with home-delivered meals, he said.
All the money that is donated to the B-S-S-T Area Agency on Aging is used to provide direct services to senior citizens, he said.
All donations to the B-S-S-T Area Agency on Aging are tax-deductible, Farley said.
For information on how to donate to the B-S-S-T Area Agency on Aging, which is based in Towanda, call (570) 265-6121.
James Loewenstein can be reached at (570) 265-1633; or email: email@example.com.