October 22, 2014

Medina
Mostly cloudy
48°F

Senior centers struggle to keep programs, services

Editor’s note: This is the first in a series about Medina County senior centers and the services provided by the centers and the Medina County Office for Older Adults.

By JUDY A. TOTTS
Senior Living Editor

Bingo games, inexpensive meals served in a congregate setting or delivered to the door, a table in one corner strewn with puzzle pieces, maybe an exercise class for people with arthritis — that might have been the perception of senior centers when they first appeared on the scene more than 50 years ago.

Today’s centers still provide hot meals and social programs, but they’re also doing a lot more, and they’re accomplishing it on shoestring budgets that are beginning to fray. The original intent — to assist seniors — hasn’t changed, but center directors and staff often need creative and collaborative measures to find funding for and keep valuable programs, like Alzheimer’s respite, transportation and home-delivered meals going.

The Medina County Office for Older Adults, established in 1974, serves the whole county, said Debra Radecky, director of Medina County OOA. They receive funding from the Western Reserve Area Agency on Aging, the Medina County commissioners and donations.

Three centers serve the needs of Medina County seniors at locations in Medina, where the MCOOA office is located in the Human Services Building, Brunswick and Wadsworth. The centers in Brunswick and Wadsworth serve as congregate meal sites and also offer programming supported by sources other than the county.

Debra Radecky, director of the Medina County Office for Older Adults, said most agencies are serving more clients on budgets that have remained flat.

One of the hardest hit programs is nutrition. Radecky said they cut funding for 19 congregate meals per day between the three sites. From January to June 2008, the centers served 5,863 meals to 182 unduplicated individuals.

They try to encourage people in the program not to eat at the sites every day, Radecky said, or to space them out. “For example, in Wadsworth, instead of eating five days, eat three times instead. We’re asking they share the program with other individuals. We realize it’s important, because the cost of food and gas has increased, there’s more of a demand.”

Limited by grants and match, they look for continuous funding to sustain the programs instead of short-term funding. “It (short-term) doesn’t solve the problem if you have to cut the program after three months,” Radecky said.

Home-delivered meals also were cut by 30 per day. It was the hardest to cut, and Radecky said that they’ve been able to cut some clients through attrition — if someone came off the program, they weren’t replaced. People have to be homebound to qualify, and now the interpretation of the requirements is more stringent. The program helps short-term clients, like those recovering from surgery, until they get back on their feet.

The county commissioners support 45 meals per day on top of their required match of local funds. The PASSPORT program funds 36 meals per day. Since the beginning of 2008, the program has provided more than 15,000 meals.

Radecky said a new version of Meals on Wheels, a pay-per-meal program, has come into the county, with delivery of one hot meal and four frozen ones once a week. Anyone can buy into that program.

Totts may be reached at religion@ohio.net