Thursday, August 11, 2016

[Ventura County] City responds to grand jury report

Officials say 12 locations offer free food, low-cost meals

BEING SERVED?—The [Camarillo] City Council recently issued a 27-page response that rejects Ventura County grand jury findings that said Camarillo’s senior meal program isn’t meeting the needs of residents due to under funding and because local agencies aren’t doing enough to coordinate their efforts. Most seniors surveyed in Camarillo don’t think sharing an inexpensive meal with their peers is that important to the quality of their lives.
But for those who do, there are plenty of places in town where seniors can get free or low-cost meals.
Those were two of the conclusions city officials reached last week in response to a Ventura County grand jury report in June that said Camarillo’s senior meal program isn’t meeting local needs because of underfunding and because local agencies aren’t doing enough to coordinate their efforts.
Approved at the City Council’s meeting July 27, the city’s 27-page response rejects point by point five grand jury findings and two of the panel’s recommendations regarding Camarillo’s “congregate” meals program.
Congregate meals are those offered to seniors in group settings, usually at reduced prices.
The grand jury cited a lack of collaboration and coordination between the city, the Camarillo Health Care District and the Pleasant Valley Recreation and Park District as the reason local seniors have less access to low- or no-cost meals than their counterparts in other cities.
Where several cities in the county provide daily congregate meals to seniors, Camarillo offers the meals once a week through the park district, the grand jury concluded.
Dwindling federal and state funding for senior nutrition programs have affected local meals programs, requiring cities to contribute more of their own money.
As a result, support for senior programs overall differs widely between cities in the county, from a high of $66.83 per senior in Moorpark to $2.36 per senior in Camarillo, the lowest in the county, the grand jury said.
In its response, Camarillo disagreed with the grand jury’s finding, particularly the claim that the city offers only one low- or no-cost meal a week.
City officials responded by providing “Exhibit A,” a list of at least 12 locations where free food and low-cost meals are available in Camarillo.
“A closer look at ‘Exhibit A’ shows that both the PVRPD (Pleasant Valley Recreation and Park District) and CHCD (Camarillo Health Care District) offer a monthly meal on the first and third Thursdays of the month, respectively,” City Manager Dave Norman said in an email to the Acorn. “The key question to be asked is, ‘Are there opportunities for seniors in Camarillo to enjoy a low- or no-cost congregate meal? Is the need being met?’ We believe the answer is yes.”
The grand jury also recommended the city survey seniors on their needs “to determine senior concerns, especially as related to an expanded congregate meal program.”
Norman said the grand jury overlooked a recent Ventura County Area Agency on Aging survey of senior needs, which received a high response from Camarillo seniors. More than 20 percent of seniors who responded to the county survey live in Camarillo, he said.
Among the survey’s 22 questions, local seniors were asked to rank how important it was for them to share a meal “with friends or others like me.” That response ranked eighth.
A question asking how important it was for local seniors to have a meal brought to their home ranked 19th out of the 22.
“Based on these survey results, congregate meals and the availability of food were not priority needs among Camarillo seniors that responded to the survey,” Norman said.
The grand jury recommended that the City of Camarillo and the local healthcare and park districts work together more closely to come up with goals and plans to expand congregate meals for local seniors.
But the city already coordinates and works with the two other entities to address senior needs, city officials said.
“Regular communication and coordination of efforts already exists between the three agencies,” the city wrote in its response.
Also, the Camarillo Council on Aging meets once a month, and at every meeting the council discusses the needs of seniors, according to the city.
Camarillo also provides reduced-fare senior transportation services through the park district, officials wrote in their response.
Norman said the grand jury members may not have had a full picture of Camarillo’s congregate meal program and its senior services.
“Topics like this, where there is a long history of multiple agencies involved, can be a challenge for outside organizations like the grand jury to assess,” he said.
As for what’s next for local senior services in the wake of the grand jury’s report, Norman said the city continues to work on issues of importance to its seniors.
“The Pleasant Valley Recreation and Park District will soon begin a needs assessment, in which an expanded or new senior center will be one of many topics explored,” he said. “The City of Camarillo stands ready to discuss a possible contribution from the city to help fund the construction, if the PVRPD finds that an expanded or new senior center is a community priority.”
August 4, 2016
Camarillo Acorn
By Hector Gonzalez

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