3 senior centers closing
SUNBURY - Three county senior action centers with a total of 148 members will be closed at the end of January due to financial constraints plaguing Northumberland County Area Agency on Aging (AAA).
On a 2-1 vote Tuesday afternoon, county commissioners approved the closing of the Elysburg Senior Action Center, Upper Northumberland Senior Action Center in Dewart and Riverside Senior Action, effective Jan. 31, 2013.
Senior citizens will still be provided transportation and the same type of services by the AAA at neighboring centers.
The closings, which were approved by Commissioners Vinny Clausi and Richard Shoch and opposed by Commissioner Stephen Bridy, will reduce the number of centers from 11 to 8.
Patricia Rumberger, administrator of the county AAA, recommended the closings because of the financial constraints facing her department.
"I'm here with a heavy heart. It's not fun for me to propose closing these centers because I love all the seniors in our county. But my recommendation was made purely for financial reasons. I chose these centers because they have the smallest membership. We will try to make this a seamless transition for our seniors."
Rumberger said the Elysburg center has 73 members with an average daily attendance of 14. She said the center in Dewart has 50 members with an average daily attendance of 10, while the Riverside center has 25 members with an average daily attendance of five.
She said it costs the AAA approximately $9,000 per attendee annually at the Riverside center and approximately $4,300 per attendee at the center in Dewart. The Elysburg center costs an estimated $3,700 per attendee.
Rumberger said Shamokin Senior Action Center has the highest average daily attendance with 31. Its annual cost is $1,924 per attendee. The center in Herndon has the next highest average attendance with 30 and an annual cost of $1,824 per attendee.
She said her department could no longer afford funding cuts prompted by Act 22, which has already caused three AAA staff members to be furloughed.
"The towns need to support the centers," Rumberger said. "There's been a declining attendance at centers statewide and nationwide over the years and I don't believe we need 11 senior action centers in the county any more."
Rumberger, who noted the AAA must pay all the expenses involved in operating the centers, said three manager positions will be cut as a result of the closings. She said each manager earns an approximate salary of $20,000 plus an additional $23,000 in benefits.
In October, the commissioners unanimously agreed to begin the disenrollment process for the Aging Waiver Program while furloughing non-essential staff and discontinuing funding of transportation fares for all residents under 65 years of age, effective Dec. 1.
The commissioners said the changes were necessary due to the fiscally challenging times facing all Area Agency on Aging (AAA) offices across the state, and said the budget constraints are a "direct result" of the Act 22 regulations.
Act 22, in effect for the 2011-12 fiscal year, granted Secretary of Public Welfare Gary Alexander the ability to institute changes in programming without formal legislative approval. The intent of the act was to reduce fraud and abuse in the welfare system, but even Republicans who supported it have acknowledged its "unintended consequences" in human services funding.
Alexander cut Aging Waiver service coordination reimbursement rates to the state's AAA offices. Service coordinators are responsible for arranging and coordinating various personal care services that allow waiver enrollees to remain out of institutional settings. Due to extremely low reimbursement, the Rumberger said the county AAA expected to face a deficit of $170,000 by the end of the year if the agency continued to administer the waiver program.
She said a transition plan will be established for county residents that will involve another service coordination, agency or entity providing services under the waiver program, for which there are 151 county residents enrolled.
As for the transportation aspect, she said the county AAA is one of the few agencies in the state that has offered free transportation to county residents between ages 60 and 65.
Rumberger said AAA offices in Pennsylvania are finding it increasingly difficult to fund programs and services for older adults as the baby-boomer population turns 60 years old. She said AAA offices have been flat funded for the last 11 years while the number of older adults requesting services has continued to increase.
On Tuesday, the commissioners blamed state government for forcing the closing of the centers.
Clausi, who previously fought to keep all the senior action centers open, said he struggled with the decision to close the three centers, but felt it was the right thing to do since it isn't cost efficient any more to maintain 12 centers when members can receive the same services a short distance away.
Bridy stated, "I blame the government for this and somebody has to take a stand. I support all our seniors and believe they deserve all the services they receive. We are being made out to be the scapegoats in this."
Shoch said it was sad to see the centers close, but represented a sign of the times that requires people to do more with less.