MANCELONA — Sherry Kuchon knows firsthand the importance of services offered to seniors by the Antrim County Commission on Aging.
Kuchon cares for her 90-year-old mother, Ethelene Henson, and 86-year-old aunt, Linda Murray, at Henson’s Mancelona-area home. Caring for the two women in their homes, in the twilight of their lives, is an act of love. But it’s also an exhausting endeavor.
Kuchon said she regularly turns to the county’s Commission on Aging (COA) staffers for her loved ones’ personal care and homemaker services when she finds herself stretched to the limit.
“Thank God for them,” Kuchon said. “They are wonderful people. I’ve met some of the finest, most caring individuals I’ve ever met in my life.”
But a shortfall in the COA budget has landed some of its services for seniors on the chopping block, including the ones offered to Murray and Henson. COA Director Mike Neubecker said the agency’s HomeMaker, Personal Care and Respite programs were suspended Friday because of a lack of money. The COA also laid off four homemakers and eight certified nursing assistants because of the financial crunch.
“Some of them have been with us at least 18 years,” Neubecker said. “I’m really sad about it. There are so many people in need within the community, and we just don’t have the financial wherewithal to meet all of those needs.”
Neubecker said the agency faces an immediate, estimated $67,400 budget shortfall. The agency has made deep cuts to programs and it’s $997,000 budget. Cutbacks include:
-- Discontinuation of spring/fall cleanup programs.
-- Elimination of summer lawn care program.
-- Cuts to in-home client service hours in November 2012 and again this October.
-- In January 2013, a sliding fee scale was established for the HomeMaker program instead of suggested donations.
-- In October a waiting list was established for all new in-home client service requests.
-- This month, three office staffers and another assistant had their hours reduced. A Bellaire site coordinator also was laid off.
-- A snow removal program will run on a sliding-fee scale of up to $35 per snow removal. Previously it was free for those in poverty and $12 for all others.
The COA is trying to fill in the service gaps through referrals to another area senior care providers like the Area Agency on Aging based in Traverse City. Neubecker said the agency witnessed a “huge increase in requests for services” in recent years combined with a total federal funding cut of 20 percent in the past two years. And the federal government’s fall sequestration cost the agency more money.
County taxpayers help finance the Commission on Aging budget with a 0.4 millage that brings in about $653,000. That number has also dropped recently because of declining property values.
County Administrator Pete Garwood said he, too, was saddened by the cutbacks.
“Unfortunatley there have been some budget shortfalls and drastic measures have to be taken to address the issue,” Garwood said, adding the county is exploring multiple options to address the problem.
“We are going to have to do one of two things: find additional funding or limit the amount of services,” he said.
Kuchon is hoping the county can find a long-term solution to offering the level of service provided to her mother and aunt.
“There are a lot of elderly folks who are in need of in-home services because of the cost of nursing homes,” she said. “I hope they (the COA) knows how much I appreciate their services.”