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Senior Day Out Program rescued

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Emergency request attracts community support

By Roger Snodgrass

Los Alamos County Council agreed to find $15,000 to fund a shortfall in the Senior Day Out Program operated by the senior center. The funds will keep the program going for the next several months to the new fiscal year.

The amount was trivial in terms of the county’s annual budget and reserves, but the revision late in the year is not welcomed as a rule.

On the other hand, as Councilor Michael Wheeler said before the unanimous vote to approve the assistance, “Every family in this community at one time or another may require these services.

“They were available to my family and I can’t describe how important that was,” he said.

The program currently provides transportation and special needs for seniors between the ages of 71 and 92. Although the program is licensed for as many as 31 clients, the county staff report said the Day Out Program currently serves about eight people.

County Community Services Director Stephani Johnson described the program as providing a few hours of respite each day for caregivers. The planned activities, exercise, entertainment and nourishment, allow elderly individuals to get out of the home on a regular basis, but enable them to remain within a family environment.

“These are folks whose next step is an assisted care facility,” Johnson said.

A number of residents, including seniors in the program, encouraged the council to act.

Helen Cake, who described her life as a caregiver, said she spent several hours in the morning getting her husband up and dressed and fed.

“And then the senior van comes by,” she said. “Hooray! There’s time to clean the house, go out to meetings and the store. I just wanted you to know that I, too, really appreciate the Day Out Program. Without it we could not exist.”

Christine Janke said she was faced with an emergency when her father-in-law, whose wife had just died, came to live with her and her six children.

“My father-in-law was very scared and unsettled,” she said. “I took him to the Day Out place. Everybody was so loving and caring and treated him so professionally. I don’t know what I would have done.”

Pauline Schneider, executive director of the Senior Center, which provides the service, began calling attention to a potential budget crunch nearly a year ago.

In the staff report provided for the agenda item and in the presentation and questions from the council, the shortfall was explained as a policy change by the state funding partners, the Area Agency on Aging and the Aging and Long Term Services Department.

Under a new requirement, the state funds could only be used for people who were referred by Adult Protective Services, because of circumstances such as neglect or abuse. “We don’t have situations like that, so that’s the reason they’re going to lose their funding,” Johnson said.

She noted that various ways to make up for a budget gap within the community services department were explored and various possibilities identified.

During the discussion that followed, the solution focused on allowing a budget revision in this case. Johnson said she was aware that council was reluctant to resolve the issue that way.

“This program provides services to special needs individuals,” Councilor Ralph Phelps said. “What more worthy objective can the council have? The amount of money is not exceptional.”

He commended Johnson for making the effort to find the money within the department’s budget.

Councilor Robert Gibson asked where the money might be found.

Johnson said she thought some money could be saved from the summer concert series.

“If we cut three concerts, that’s $12,000,” she said.

The council decided not to tinker with that budget and the motion was changed instead to request a budget revision.

“I’d rather not move the money around,” Phelps said. “But I will support it.”

“For me it is a pleasure to allocate money for the Day Out Program,” Council Chair Michael Wismer said. When the motion passed 7-0, he added, “Your funding is on the way.”