Senior agency defends its food service
CHARLESTON, W.Va. - The executive director of Putnam Aging is defending the program after county officials said the nonprofit should be stripped of its duty to feed seniors in Kanawha County.
Meanwhile, Kanawha County Commission President Kent Carper continues his push to have control turned over to Kanawha Valley Senior Services instead. He said he would like to see Putnam Aging's contract in Kanawha County nullified.
Carper started the push when he heard there were about 70 seniors in the St. Albans area not receiving meals from Putnam Aging, which holds the state contract to feed seniors in Kanawha, Putnam, Clay and Fayette counties.
Putnam Aging Executive Director Joyce Arthur said Carper's figure is wrong.
As of three weeks ago, there were just nine people in St. Albans on the waiting list for home-delivered meals, Arthur said.
"But that's a moving number," she said. "We could have 10 people call today and be put on a waiting list."
In all of Kanawha County, about 69 seniors are on the waiting list, Arthur said.
Carper received information from St. Albans Mayor Dick Callaway, who claimed a representative of the Hansford Senior Center told him there were 70 St. Albans seniors on the waiting list.
"That was the number I was given," Callaway said.
He hasn't been able to confirm the numbers because he was told he would have to obtain further information from Putnam Aging.
"My point is we're wanting to make sure the people who need it have this service available to them," Callaway said.
Carper is unconvinced. He said Kanawha Valley Senior Services seems better prepared to manager the program.
"Our senior services program has indicated that they can provide the services in our county," Carper said.
Robert Roswall, West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services commissioner, said the agency has not received any complaints about Putnam Aging's performance in Kanawha County.
Roswall looked into the claim that 70 people in the St. Albans area are not receiving food and found that only about 10 people were on a waiting list.
Both Roswall and Arthur say that although Putnam Aging attempts to provide as many meals to seniors as possible, recent funding cuts have hurt the nonprofit.
Putnam Aging received about $795,000 in federal and state funding to provide meals to seniors in Kanawha County during the current fiscal year, according to figures provided by Roswall.
This represents about a $94,000 cut from the previous fiscal year, according to the figures.
That cut came in the form of money that was redirected by the federal government to the Eastern Panhandle and Monongalia, Marion and Harrison counties.
These areas received more federal funds because of a population shift of seniors, Roswall said.
Putnam Aging also lost money because federal stimulus dollars dried up, he said.
It still manages to provide 146,000 senior meals in Kanawha County, Roswall said. That is 5,000 more meals than the contract requires, he said.
Carper has other concerns. Putnam Aging was recently forced to pay West Virginia Medicaid $1.3 million because the nonprofit hired a contractor who was using felons as caregivers in 2011. Carper wandered whether that payment had anything to do with the fact that seniors are being put on a waiting list.
Arthur emphatically stated the payments had nothing to do with it.
Callaway believes Putnam Aging bid too low when it competed for the contract.
Arthur emphasized that Putnam Aging is simply dealing with budget cuts and is working to reduce administrative costs by cutting back on staff hours.
It is also delivering two meals on Tuesday to cut down on travel costs, she said. That way the seniors have a meal for Tuesday and Wednesday. It could expand this approach to other days of the week as well, Arthur said.
Putnam Aging is also accepting donations to enable it to serve more meals, she said.
She pointed out that the Kanawha County Commission does not provide funds to Putnam Aging to help defray costs.
Carper asked why the commission would provide money to the Putnam nonprofit when it could give money to Kanawha Valley Senior Services instead.
Commissioners will explore the issue during a meeting Tuesday at the courthouse starting at 5 p.m., he said.
"We're going to look at this from top to bottom," Carper said. "One thing I will not do is apologize for safeguarding the senior citizens of this county."
Roswall believes Putnam Aging is doing a good job. It has held the contract since 1993, he said.
The state cannot strip the contract from Putnam Aging and give it to Kanawha Valley Senior Services without first receiving a large number of complaints about their service, Roswall said.
The agency would also have to re-bid the entire contract and would not be able to arbitrarily award it to Kanawha Valley Senior Services, he said.
"It would be hard to tell who would end up bidding on this because it's a large contract," Roswall said.
Kanawha Valley Senior Services could handle the program if it were called upon to do so, Director Janie Hamilton said. However, Hamilton said there would be some advantages and disadvantages for Kanawha Valley seniors.
"The advantage would be our ability to provide services," she said. "The disadvantage would be that it would require a significant amount of strategic planning."
The Kanawha County agency would have to plan how to take over a large nutrition program that includes home delivered meals as well as congregate meals at senior centers throughout the area.
Arthur expressed concerns about whether Kanawha Valley Senior Services could take over such a large program.
"There are a lot of intricate details, from ordering food to tracking how much each center has," Arthur said. "There would be a strong learning curve."