Thursday, August 30, 2018

[Lake County] Highlands Senior Service Center struggling

Blog note: this article references a grand jury report.
CLEARLAKE >> The Highlands Senior Service Center in Clearlake was incorporated in 1983. For 35 years, HSSC Inc has provided help to senior citizens in the Clearlake community. Clearlake City Council Member and Highlands Senior Service Center Executive Director Joyce Overton said that from information assistance to food programs like Meals on Wheels, “Highlands has made its purpose to allow senior citizens in our community to age in place, to enjoy their waning years in the comfort of their own homes, to ensure that they have access to a healthy meal, information vital to their survival, access to exercise programs and education opportunities, and a safe environment to meet and interact with their peer group — just a small example of the services we provide.”
The center’s volunteer Meals on Wheels drivers serve Lower Lake, Clearlake Park and the City of Clearlake, Overton said, “bringing human contact to the housebound as well as a hot meal. Our drivers are our ‘eyes and ears,’ keeping an eye on the most vulnerable of our neighbors, reporting back to us any incidence of unsafe living conditions, physical and mental illnesses, and senior abuse, so that we can report it to the proper authorities. Our services are vital to the aging population in our area.”
According to Overton, the center helps non-seniors as well. “A goodly percentage of calls and visits to the Center are from people who are under the age of 60 seeking information on food resources, legal services, housing information and clothing sources, to name just a handful of issues. Highlands Senior Service Center is here for the whole community.”
In recent years, the Highlands Senior Service Center has added another dimension to its services: that of an emergency evacuation center.
“During the last several years,” said Overton, “from floods to the Forks and Wye Fires to the ravages of the Valley, Rocky, Sulphur and Clayton Fires, Highlands Senior Service Center staff have manned the Evacuation Centers that were established in the Community Center Building, housing, feeding and providing comfort and care to people who sometimes had lost everything.”
Despite these circumstances, Overton said, the center is dealing with a significantly reduced budget in 2018. “We supported the community during these dark times, and, outside of a few of our valued community organizations and treasured individuals, we received no disaster-related financial help in return,” she said. “Now, after being there for the community for all of these years and through all of these events, Highlands Senior Service Center is turning to the community to help us continue to provide this heroic assistance.”
Overton said that the center’s grant funding had been cut by $35,000 from the past year. “After so many years of austerity measures and government gutting of safety nets and social programs, this cut has come as quite a blow,” Overton said.
According to Overton, the center has cut its roster of employees down to just four, with one full-time kitchen manager and three part-time employees. Overton said that the center depends on a variety of sources for its funding, and that the significant loss this year was due to an evaluation by the Area Agency on Aging of Lake & Mendocino Counties. The funding cut, based on information provided by Overton and an AAA representative, was the result of a finding that the Highlands Senior Service Center was serving a lower number of meals than in previous years, despite still having served more than 37,000 meals last year and earning a Health Department grade of 100 percent according to a recent review by the Civil Grand Jury.
Dena Eddings, Program Coordinator for the AAA, said: “Our funds are distributed throughout our contracted senior centers using a funding allocation formula approved by the Area Agency on Aging Governing Board which utilizes a rolling 36 month average of the meals served in each of the corresponding service areas.”
The accuracy of this funding allocation formula, and the resultant cut in funding for the Highlands Senior Service Center, is not disputed by Overton, who said that she thought the AAA “felt bad” for having to cut the center’s funding.
Nevertheless, Overton felt that a re-evaluation from the AAA would show a dramatic increase in the Highlands Senior Service Center’s meal numbers. Such an increase would be due at least in part to the center’s secondary function as an emergency center. At the height of the Mendocino Complex Fire, Overton said, “we were serving up to 400 people here.”
The center does have funding from other sources—like the Redbud Healthcare District, to name one major contributor—but Overton said that the center is “faced with the very real possibility of having to shorten the hours we are available to the public, reduce the services that the most vulnerable of our neighbors rely on, and cut our staffing, the very people who make all the services and assistance possible.”
August 27, 2018
Record Bee
By Staff Reports

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