Commissioners question delivery of senior services

The Susquehanna County Courthouse was built in the Greek Revival style – one of the architectural styles prominent in the Montrose Historic District which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2011. STAFF PHOTO/STACI WILSON

Concern over the delivery of services for seniors in the area has led the Susquehanna County Commissioners to invite the public to an open forum to hear complaints and comments.

Planned to take place after the first of the year, discussion at the forum is expected to center on the availability and use of local Active Living Centers.  No date has been set.

Commissioner Judy Herschel, a member of the Area Agency on Aging (AAA) board of directors, expressed her concern over the future of the local centers, a concern shared by the other commissioners.

 Alarming her and others are the facts that deliveries from Meals on Wheels, a AAA program which brings free meals to seniors, have been reduced from five days a week to one delivery each week that includes one hot meal with additional frozen meals.  Also of notice is the AAA decision to close the Active Living Center in Montrose.  A plan to close the Forest City Active Living Center was narrowly avoided.

“There’s a committee we put together to see what the future of these AAA centers looks like in Susquehanna County and all the other counties that the B/S/S/T AAA covers,” Herschel said.

“We’re trying to ensure that the senior centers that we have right now stay open but a lot of them have limited space,” she added.

Fellow commissioner Alan Hall, whose late mother was a recipient of the services, was more blunt.

“I’m tired of people using COVID and the pandemic as an excuse for incompetency and neglect,” Hall said.

“We are not serving hot meals in this county.  We are serving frozen meals which, basically, I wouldn’t even feed my dog – and I don’t even have a dog.  They are horrible,” Hall said.

Area Agency on Aging executive director Marlea Hoyt acknowledged problems presented by the pandemic and explained that some services were reduced due to what her office perceived as a lack of participation.  Other services have also been streamlined due to safety concerns.  Many of the region’s Active Living Centers are down to one day a week, she said.

“We really are trying to provide services throughout the county.  Because of the pandemic we are down to one day a week,” Hoyt said.

Hoyt pointed out, for instance, that B/S/S/T Area Agency on Aging uses volunteer meal drivers, whose average age is 72.  This AAA serves not only Susquehanna County but Bradford, Tioga and Sullivan Counties as well, Hoyt said.

“We’re trying to provide the services, but we want to make sure they’re safe,” Hoyt said.

Hoyt cited the most recent available figures on home deliveries which indicated that in October of this year the AAA performed 85 home deliveries and in 2000 provided a total of 1,819 deliveries.

Hoyt acknowledged the closing of the Montrose Active Living Center and the decision to offer transportation five miles away to the Fairdale United Methodist Church.  Hoyt confirmed that the decision was made due to low participation.

“With the participation being so very low at the Montrose facility it made sense,” said Hoyt.

“We do recognize we need to make changes but at the same time we want to be able to offer more services,” Hoyt said.

“I get very discouraged when they close a senior center that’s in a housing unit.  I mean, they have an absolutely captive audience if they could get their act together,” said Kelley Allen, a former center volunteer present at last week’s meeting.

Commissioner Elizabeth “Betsy” Arnold, speaking during the meeting by telephone link due to a conflicting commitment, said the commissioners were interested in brainstorming the issue with her and anyone else interested.

“We’d be very open to talking with you,” Arnold said.

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