West Virginia senior services providers want to know how the COVID pandemic has affected the delivering of care, meals, and other assistance to West Virginia’s elderly.
Jennifer Brown, President of the West Virginia Directors of Senior and Community Services (WVDSCS), told the Legislature’s Select Committee on PEIA, Seniors, and Long Term Care on Sunday that WVDSCS asked the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research to survey senior citizens about their needs and the services the association’s members provide.
Click here for a video link for Jennifer Brown’s testimony. (Adjust time to 2:10.)
Click here for coverage from the West Virginia Press Association.
Ms. Brown, who also is Executive Director of the Wyoming County-based Council on Aging Inc. and All Care Home and Community Services Inc., said WVDSCS members are coping with the effects of the COVID pandemic, which has changed the way senior services providers support their clients.
“With the occurrence of COVID and less financial certainty, our member agencies are working to better understand our clients and their needs and how we can best serve them,” Ms. Brown said.
“While state code tasks the Bureau of Senior Services to assess the needs of our state’s elderly, our association has taken on a project with Dr. John Deskins of the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research to survey our seniors about their needs and the services our members provide.”
She said COVID-related funding has helped senior services agencies, but she expects the increased costs the agencies are experiencing will outlast COVID-related government funding.
“During our spring conference, the Bureau of Senior Services reported that it will need an additional $5 million or $6 million to continue nutrition services at the current level,” Ms. Brown said. “The Bureau has not requested that funding, and we are working to meet that challenge.”
Providing background, Ms. Brown said senior services providers are nonprofit agencies that face the same operational and financial challenges confronting private employers.
Ms. Brown said senior services providers have been in operation for more than 50 years and evolved from the Older Americans Act that Congress passed in the 1960s. The act was designed to provide ongoing care, nutrition, and other services to help older Americans live in their homes as long as possible.
She said senior services providers today employ more than 3,000 people who serve 30,000 residents in the state, and those services allow clients to remain in their homes.
Ms. Brown said local boards oversee senior services providers that provide nutrition programs through home-delivered meals or meals served on site, transportation, social activities, skills training, and many other services. The programs, she said, help clients avoid isolation and loneliness.
Ms. Brown said in-home care includes assistance with bathing, general grooming, and light housekeeping if deemed medically necessary. Association members also offer respite programs for caregivers, Alzheimer’s and dementia programs, and other resources.
“Senior citizens who remain in their homes are more comfortable,” she said. “They enjoy a better quality of life. It is that simple. Furthermore, such an approach is far more cost effective.”
She said many West Virginians have moved to other states, leaving behind elderly parents and other relatives.
“Those aging citizens may have few if any others nearby to help them,” Ms. Brown said. “That is where senior services providers are making a difference.”
Ms. Brown told the committee the major challenge is revenue not keeping pace with needs. She said waiting lists for meals or transportation are the result of funding and staffing shortages, noting that her agency could use 25 to 30 more people right now.
To support the research project with WVU, the association asked the West Virginia Bureau of Senior Services and the West Virginia Bureau of Medical Services to provide five years of data regarding senior services, Ms. Brown said.
“We believe fresh information from Dr. Deskins will give us a clearer picture of the needs of our senior citizens and the amount of support we will need to deliver those services,” Ms. Brown said. “Our goal is to complete the project by December, when we hope Dr. Deskins will be able to deliver a formal presentation of his findings.”
Senator Eric Nelson of Kanawha County asked a follow-up question.
“What hit me was the comment you made of unused year-end monies that you, I guess, have to give back,” Senator Nelson said.
Ms. Brown responded that the Bureau of Senior Services does not have the ability to reallocate funds at the end of the fiscal year if an agency has unspent funds. About $1.5 million was unspent last year, she said, adding that the practice has become a trend.
Senator Nelson said he would like to have more history about senior services.
Chairman Matthew Rohrbach of Cabell County agreed, saying he’d experienced the situation as a member of his local senior center board.
Senator Charles Clements of Wetzel County asked about senior agencies’ difficulty in retaining employees. Ms. Brown responded that it’s a challenge throughout the state to find people who will provide in-home care.
Delegate Brent Boggs of Braxton County asked about elderly residents who may not know what services are available. Ms. Brown agreed it was a challenge.
“We are struggling to provide help for the people we have now, so that’s the dilemma,” she said.
Delegate Boggs noted that he has had difficulty finding people to care for his elderly parents in the home.
“This is one of the most important issues this Legislature deals with,” Chairman Rohrbach said at the conclusion of the meeting.