Officials with the local senior meals program told the county commissioners on Monday that "changes," meaning cutbacks, are coming to the program.
The reasons are financial, said Volunteers of America regional director Craig Ammermann.
A number of factors are contributing to increasing costs and lower funding for the senior meals program, which VOA operates in Delta, Montrose and San Miguel counties.
VOA's programs across the nation are being affected by the same financial squeeze, he said.
Private foundation grant funding has declined. Federal funding for the program is in jeopardy. Food costs have increased 18-20 percent per year for the last three years. At the same time, the number of meals served in the local three-county area has increased by one-fourth to the current 110,000 to 120,000 meals per year.
As a result the local program, which VOA assumed management of three years ago, has gone from essentially a break-even operation to one that requires a cash subsidy from VOA of over $300,000 each year.
"The program has been struggling financially" for over two years, Ammermann told the BoCC. "I wish I had better news for you."
It is inevitable that changes will be made to the local senior meals program. "There are no options under the current funding that preclude the need to reduce the number of meals being served," said Michelle Haynes, director of Region 10 in Montrose. Her agency channels federal funding through the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) to VOA for the meals program.
"We should know soon our course of action," Ammermann said. "We have to re-evaluate the amount of meals we can provide. There will be adjustments to our program within the next 90 days."
"Those adjustments could come even sooner. The answer is not simple," added Deana Sheriff, director of the VOA's CommUnity Meals nutrition for seniors program.
Ammermann and Sheriff said no decision has been finalized on specific changes. During their conference with the BoCC on Monday, three likely options were aired. They were the following:
• Continue with efforts for establishing a central kitchen facility that will eventually lower VOA's costs.
The local, three-county program uses six meal-preparation sites. A central facility would lower costs.
VOA's Harvest Plan, a visionary proposal for a central kitchen and food processing facility using local produce isn't in the picture for VOA now. The Harvest Plan could have enabled the non-profit to increase revenues and expand services and products to new markets. Another area non-profit is evaluating the concept, Sheriff said.
VOA is currently working with the Town of Cedaredge, Region 10, Delta County Joint School District 50, and others on an idea to utilize the kitchen facility at Hunsicker Elementary School as a "central kitchen facility" that could serve five of VOA's current eight meal sites and lower costs. Region 10 is helping fund a feasibility study of the proposal, Haynes said.
• Use of frozen, "heat and eat" meals for Meals on Wheels clients utilizing multiple meals delivered per trip.
The idea of delivering frozen meals to homebound clients has been rejected in the past. Cost, and the difficulty of finding volunteers to deliver meals may make the move to heat and eat a necessity. One in six senior nutrition programs nationwide is closing congregate meal sites or home delivery programs, Ammermann said. In the City of Delta along, there are eight Meals on Wheels routes, Sheriff said.
• Begin the use of wait lists for program clients in order to cut the number of meals being prepared and served.
This was the most likely option discussed during Monday's session; that of a wait list for senior meal program participants.
There is currently no income qualification to participate in the local senior nutrition program. But that criterion, and others as well, could be used if the program goes to a wait list. "We will try to identify our most needy population to make sure the most needy get served," Ammermann said.
He explained that other senior meals programs in the country are eliminating staff positions. reducing numbers of clients served and 70 percent of them are cutting the number of meals being served and establishing or adding to waiting lists. "We haven't used a waiting list and don't want to. But, we can't continue with the program's current structure in the current financial situation," he said.
The average cost of each senior meal VOA serves here is $13.11. The suggested donation for seniors is $3.50 to $4. The average client donation is $2.20.
"The vast majority of our clients at meal sites are over 75, and over 78 for the delivery program," Sheriff said. "The local program serves 58 percent of its clients who are below the poverty level, and in Delta County alone the number is 65 percent.
Some of the program's funding sources include the dwindling contributions from private foundations, community support in the form of free use of meal sites, and cash funding from county governments. Delta County has donated $10,000 annually for the program's four sites here. Montrose County gives $8,000 annually for its three sites. San Miguel County pledges $12,000 to support its one county site at Norwood.
VOA's losses have mounted since taking over the local program. Federal funding through Region 10 and AAA covers the majority of costs and that funding is in danger of being cut, the BoCC was told.
Haynes of Region 10 notes that Congress is currently considering funding for the Older Americans Act. People can call their representatives and express support for the senior meals and Meals on Wheels programs, she said.
Ammermann said, "We can feed a person the entire year for the cost of one day in a hospital."
Sheriff added, "The small amount per year cost that helps keep a person in their own home also keeps them out of a nursing home at $75,000 per year.
The senior meals served in the local VOA program are about evenly divided between site served and delivered.
"Stay tuned. We know there are changes coming," Sheriff said. The Delta meal site serves about 200 total clients; Cedaredge 175; Hotchkiss 75; Paonia 65; and, Olathe 45, the officials said.
The local meal site managers as of Monday had not been told of the need to make changes in the program, the representatives said. They did not ask for the county commissioners for more money. "We know the reality," Sheriff said, "and the reality of our gap is so large."blog comments powered by Disqus