Budget woes extend to senior services

Article Published: Oct. 19, 2009 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011

Senior services are getting squeezed due to spending cutbacks, but the most vulnerable are still at the top of the list for assistance.

Project on Aging director Angie Boitnotte delivered her annual report to the county commissioners Monday, with both revenues and expenditures down over the last fiscal year. Despite a drop in Medicaid reimbursement for In-Home Aide services, Boitnotte said cuts most often meant longer waiter lists rather than having people dropped from services.

Last year, the department had a budget of $1.4 million and spent 7 percent less than that. Watauga County provided $800,000 of the funding for senior services, and Boitnotte said such local support was increasingly rare.

"I'm extremely happy we've been able to continue to provide the levels of service we have," she said. "It's amazing to me, considering how many other counties don't get that support."

With declines in state and federal funding, Boitnette said the challenge is to make sure services get to those who need them most, whether it's home-delivered meals, aides for the elderly who are trying to stay at home rather than enter a long-term care facility or those living in poverty.

"We really target the frailest and most vulnerable and try to keep them at home as long as possible," Boitnotte said.

The number of hours of in-home aide services declined by about 20 percent, to 21,853 hours.

Boitnotte said that came from a combination of cuts and fewer requests, while the number of frail adults served was down slightly to 252 people.

The total number of home-delivered meals was down about 5 percent, to 29,039, reaching 193 people. The home-delivered meals program averaged 129 clients a day, with four on the waiting list.

Another 9,253 congregate meals were served as the Lois E. Harrill Senior Center and the Western Watauga Community Center. The Project on Aging operates 11 meal routes, including two out of the Western Watauga Community Center, with volunteers running the routes and providing a welcome contact to the homebound.

The in-home aide program had an average waiting list of five people, with 24 current clients eligible for additional services.

Boitnotte also reported an almost-perfect collection rate for Medicaid claims, at 99.7 percent. "For every dollar we collect, a service has been provided," Boitnotte said.

The Project on Aging also provided health screenings, tax assistance, classes, recreational offerings and medication management.

Not all eligible clients accept services. Last year, 14 declined aide services while others chose or entered a nursing facility. The client list is also constantly changing due to nursing-home placement, death, recovery or a change in status.

Boitnotte expects funding to be tight in the immediate future as well. "Funding is always a challenge," she said. "Most likely, we'll continue to have decreases in funding. We're thankful to the county commissioners for the amount of funding they give. All of what we do is provide direct services, so funding will affect services. There's just not any other area to cut."

More information on available services is at http://www.wataugacounty.org/aging/index.html.

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