The following letter regarding the closure of Pendleton Senior and Family Services North Fork satellite nutrition site was sent to Governor Jim Justice by Janice Lantz, executive director.
November 16, 2022
Honorable Governor Jim Justice
Office of the Governor
1900 Kanawha Blvd, East
Charleston, WV 25305
Dear Governor Justice,
It has come to our attention that Pendleton Senior and Family Services has been the topic of discussion over the last several months. Apparently, the closing of our North Fork satellite nutrition site has caused some stir among individuals in a bordering county. It seems that there is confusion as to how our closure will affect other nutrition sites around the state.
Let me start by giving you a little background concerning our senior center. When I became Executive Director of Pendleton Senior and Family Services, Inc. four years ago, our centers were in a troubled place. We had a large amount of debt and both buildings needed maintenance.
Our diligent Board of Directors, my staff, and myself worked tireless hours digging our way out of the debt accumulated prior to my tenure. We also had gracious donations from individuals and businesses who believe in and support the services our organization provides to the communities in our county, and for the first time, in 2020, we received support from our County Commission as well (which they continued in 2021 and 2022). We were helped with some large maintenance projects by our local Area Agency, the Upper Potomac Area Agency on Aging (UPAAA), and Delegate Bill Hamilton. But we did not receive any funds for any maintenance projects from the Bureau of Senior Services.
The only way we have turned this agency around is by cutting costs across the board including, but not limited to, bringing down utility costs by replacing the rotting windows in our building and controlling thermostats. We have also installed a new HVAC system to replace an outdated system that no longer worked properly and was in danger of failing. The Administrative Staff endured a 20% pay reduction, for a while, and when employees resigned, the positions were not filled–the job duties were absorbed by remaining staff to cut payroll costs. In some cases, this created a great deal of stress for our staff; however, they persevered.
During COVID, our staff and I kept both centers going serving curbside meals, home delivered meals, and in-home services that were required and/or allowed to be provided. At times, due to COVID, we operated our Franklin nutrition site and Administrative Offices with three part-time, one full-time staff, and the volunteer services of our wonderful board members. Through it all we have kept our centers open and continue to provide services to the most vulnerable seniors in our county, but we were never recognized as essential employees.
Our Board has been considering closing our North Fork site since before my tenure. While diligently watching all our other costs, I have been monitoring our costs at the North Fork site very closely over the last four years. As in Franklin, we brought our utilities down as much as possible, let our cook go, and reduced our operating hours by two hours daily. We continued to pay our staff during COVID at that site and provided uninterrupted curbside meal service even though most days there were only between two and five individuals. Reopening after COVID, we reduced our congregate meals to three days a week instead of five. After much consideration, our board of directors and myself saw that the possibility of continuing to operate that site with only eight to ten individuals returning to the center after COVID was slim. We held public meetings to let the participants know of the impending possibilities. A representative from the UPAAA attended two of those meetings. A Bureau of Senior Services representative, however, did not attend any of the meetings.
I was hoping that the new change in the formula for allocating our funding for FY23 would help our situation. However, it did not. Instead of an increase in funding, we took a decrease in some of our programs creating an even further strain. Considering as FY22 was winding down we were struggling to balance our programs with local dollars (which I might add are very hard to come by in Pendleton County) we once again revisited the overhead cost of operating the North Fork nutrition site. It was very clear that we could no longer continue to operate that facility at a loss to our organization or we would be right back to where we started four years ago in no time.
My board of directors, who are a mix of working and retired professionals, some of which own and operate their own businesses, made the unanimous decision to close the North Fork nutrition site, as of October 1, 2022, which coincided with our new fiscal year. We offered our “regular” participants an alternate way of getting their meals. We were able to pick up four of them on our current home bound meal delivery route. Seven, who could not be put on our home bound meal delivery route were offered curb side meals delivered, three days a week (which is the number of days we were currently serving congregate) to the site where they were currently being served. Four accepted – three declined. We also invited them to travel 15 miles to Franklin so they would be able to participate in social activities which we could not or did not offer at North Fork. We were told they would rather go to Harman (22 miles) or Greenbank (34 miles) to eat which would be an increased amount of mileage for all involved.
But all of this is not good enough. Last week I was contacted by Commissioner Robert Roswall and told the Bureau of Senior Services was considering contracting with a local restaurant on our behalf to provide meals to the regular participants. It seems that if that worked out, then he would try to force our local area agency to take funds from our current allocation to provide these meals. This would ultimately affect the meals that we are currently providing to the rest of our county.
My questions regarding the restaurant are numerous. Is the restaurant going to be required to follow the strict nutritional guidelines etc. that we must follow as part of our nutrition contract (which is not with the Bureau of Senior Services, but with the UPAAA)? Is the restaurant going to be reimbursed on the same unit cost basis that we are reimbursed? If they are going to be reimbursed more than the $7.00 we currently receive for a meal, how is that fair to us? Especially when they plan to take it from our funding allocation. How does this affect the future of the senior centers across the state?
Last week, we were also contacted by the UPAAA, and it was suggested that we consider providing transportation from North Fork to Franklin (15 miles) for those “regular” participants that are currently being provided curbside meals. We are considering this because we have been asked to, not because we think it is feasible.
The only way to do this quickly would be pulling one of our assisted transportation drivers from our transportation program. Pulling a driver from providing non-emergency medical transportation would certainly create a hardship for our clients as we would not be able to provide as many transports. This could affect the transportation that we provide to our dialysis clients as well, which is a lifesaving service for them.
The other way would be to contract with our local transit authority to provide the transportation. I have reached out to that provider and am waiting to see if they would even be able to provide this service to us and at what cost.
There have been other satellite nutrition sites that have closed across the state. Why are we being singled out for this treatment? We have done the absolute best we can for our agency with the funding we have without jeopardizing the entire agency for a few individual participants that we have done everything we can to reach a compromise with them.
And furthermore, according to what I have been told, this is stemming from a concerned citizen in a neighboring county that thinks the closure of our satellite nutrition site is going to somehow affect a site in their county. Those who understand our network, would know that all counties receive different levels of funding based on a funding formula. Senior centers do not all operate the same exact programs and do not all receive the same level of local funding (fundraising, donations and etc.) Even though we must operate under the same requirements and guidelines, we all operate a little differently within our funding allocations and resources.
Our board and I made, what we felt was, the best decision that we could based on the funding that we know we are going to be able to secure in these uncertain times with the high cost of fuel and raw food rising every day to ensure that we would be serving the most we possibly could of the at risk vulnerable senior population across our entire county.
Additional funding is always needed for our senior centers. Our county needs funding for a Hot/Cold Truck so we can expand our home-delivered meal routes further out into the county reaching those who we cannot serve because they live too far out. We need funds specifically for building repair and maintenance and improvement projects and additional funding for transportation and reimbursement rate increases to keep up with the increases in raw food, disposables and fuel to provide the meals to our seniors. Funding so we can increase the wages we pay to our employees so we can retain and attract staff.
In closing, I hope that this would be the way the UPAAA, the Bureau of Senior Services and you, as Governor of our great state, would expect all of your senior centers to function and operate.
Janice Lantz, Executive Director
cc: Commissioner Robet Roswall
Scott Gossard, UPAAA
Ashley Anderson, UPAAA
Pendleton County Commissioners
Delegate Bill Hamilton
Senator Joe Manchin III
The Pendleton Times