Senior center braces for cuts

PARKERSBURG – The Wood County Senior Center is one of many centers across the state that could be impacted by a proposed cut in state funding being considered by the Legislature.

The state is considering a $1.6 million cutback to senior services that some say will severely impact senior centers’ ability to provide services, said Jennifer Gibson, president of the West Virginia Directors of Senior and Community Services.

“Our senior population in West Virginia is growing, so the need for services is increasing, not decreasing,” Gibson said. “Every part of our state will suffer from these budget cuts.

“The people particularly hard hit will be those seniors that need services and want to continue living at home. The necessary services won’t be there.”

Mike Dennis, director of the Wood County Senior Citizens Association, said the center serves many area seniors through a variety of programs, including nutrition, transportation, in-home care and information services. In 2013, the center saw funding cuts as part of the federal sequestration, but those cuts were not as severe as expected. At the state level in 2013, the state Bureau of Senior Services was able to absorb some cuts internally by not replacing staff that had left.

However, if the proposed cuts go forward, Dennis said that could be “very frightening.”

“Any further cuts will affect the programs we offer,” he said.

Seniors are offered one hot meal a day through programs at senior centers across the state. Most local centers have waiting lists, Gibson said.

Statewide, 716 seniors are on waiting lists for meal services, while 2,711 seniors are on in-home care waiting lists.

“We have waiting lists for a number of our programs,” Dennis said of meal programs, in-home care programs and respite programs for in-home caregivers.

The Wood County Senior Citizens Nutrition Program provided nearly 35,000 hot meals last year to seniors in Wood County. Meals are served at nutrition sites at the seniors centers in Parkersburg and as well as Hillview Terrace in Vienna.

Wood County Seniors operates handicap accessible vehicles and provides transportation to and from its nutrition sites in Parkersburg and Vienna and transportation to and from medical appointments and to grocery stores.

“Any cuts in funding will increase the wait times for local seniors to get these services,” Dennis said. “One of the primary things we were put in place to do is help seniors avoid going to a nursing care facility for as long as possible.

“Seniors want to be able to stay in their homes and our meal and care programs allow them to stay. Funding cuts would devastate those programs,” Dennis said.

“I too would urge the governor and the Legislature to put the money back,” Dennis said. “These are needed services in every community across the state.”

The Legislature concluded its regular session on Saturday, but lawmakers are meeting this week to consider the state budget.