BY GLENN PUIT
SUTTONS BAY — Leelanau County Commission on Aging's new director wants to focus on the future, not the past.
April Missias takes over on Dec. 3 and will replace former Director Rosie Steffens. Steffens and another COA employee retired under pressure in August because COA housekeepers improperly inflated mileage reimbursement claims, a contentious matter that cost the county more than $100,000.
Missias doesn't want to dwell on the row.
"That's something to be on the radar and to be aware of," Missias said. "But my position is, it's time to move forward and focus on the needs of the seniors in Leelanau County."
Missias' hiring is the first step in a complete revamp of COA, County Administrator Chet Janik said. A consultant's report completed in November found the COA should change its name to the Leelanau County Department of Senior Services because the COA, it said, "has a tainted reputation with the media and county residents."
Other report findings include:
n Services provided by COA should be "means tested," meaning services and costs for those services will be income dependent and provided on a sliding fee scale.
n COA staff needs to start working as a team. Previously, staffers "all worked on their own projects and did not share information for whatever reason — job security, jealously, time, etc."
n Programs such as senior dining, foot care, home chore, homemaker and unmet needs should be continued. The computer repair and stockings for seniors programs should be eliminated.
n COA needs to develop a list of approved providers able to pass background checks.
A review of COA's finances in September showed it carried an excess fund balance of nearly $500,000, prompting the Board of Commissioners to lower the county's COA millage rate by 31 percent.
Missias's background is in social services and senior care at private facilities. She said her top priority is to put the welfare of seniors first.
"I think seniors have such a great value to our society," Missias said. "They have such wisdom. Sometimes we don't take the time to hear and listen about what they really need."