Officials hope to work on clearing waiting lists, getting people help
FRONT ROYAL -- Six months after a financial crisis hit the Shenandoah Area Agency on Aging, waiting lists for its services are longer than ever, a situation agency officials hope to begin remedying in the next few weeks.
Cindy Palmer, the agency's interim president, told a board of directors meeting Thursday that case managers would be reassessing individuals on waiting lists and rating them according to their needs. Those with the most pressing needs will have the first opportunities to receive agency services, she said.
"We're going to study them and start getting some of these people" off the list and into programs, Palmer said.
In an interview after the meeting, Roberta Lauder, director of resource development, said she believed the agency has never seen waiting lists as long for greater periods of time than the current ones.
For example, the waiting list is 53 for the Meals on Wheels program in all six jurisdictions served by SAAA -- Frederick, Shenandoah, Page, Warren and Clarke counties and Winchester.
The Homemaker Assistance program has 37 people on its waiting list in all jurisdictions and the Personal Care program has 18.
One of the longest waiting lists is 20 people in Warren County for the Active Living Center, according to Mary Ann Gardner, interim director of the Warren County Active Living program.
Other long lists include 14 in Winchester and 11 in Warren County for the Meals on Wheels program. Clarke and Shenandoah counties have some of the shortest waiting lists, two people in each county waiting for help from the Personal Care program.
Lauder said other social service and health care institutions in the community have stopped making referrals to SAAA because of the length of the waiting lists.
The agency has been unable to move people off the lists and into programs since the financial crisis descended on it late last summer. Since then, the agency has struggled to work through several cash flow shortages that led to reductions in pay and benefits for the staff. Agency officials have said layoffs and program cuts remain a possibility as the agency tries to survive the latest round of cash flow imbalances.
Lauder said the frozen waiting lists have frustrated agency staff members who want to continue to help clients.
"It's hard on those on the front lines, the case managers and staff," Lauder said. "They see the need and they have to say 'no.'"
In a related matter, Palmer spoke with cautious optimism at the meeting about the agency's finances improving after March. She said officials from the state Department for the Aging met with her and other SAAA officials earlier this month and offered helpful advice on how to submit more effective requests to funding sources.
"Once we're through March, we will enter into a recovery period when revenues and expenses begin to stabilize," she said.
The financial crisis has produced lawsuits and counter-lawsuits between SAAA and former executives who were dismissed last summer in the aftermath of the discovery of checks made out to vendors that were never sent to the intended recipients. Several investigations have been launched, including one by state police into the possibility of criminal wrongdoing in the way money was handled at the agency.