Orleans Council On Aging Copes With Growing Pains

By: Ed Maroney

Topics: Aging , Municipal Finance

The Orleans Council on Aging. COURTESY PHOTO

ORLEANS How to address the needs of a booming program can be even more complex than shoring up one in decline.

By many measures, the council on aging is getting the job done. In the fiscal year that ended June 30, 1,242 Orleans seniors were served by the senior center's many programs. While reason for satisfaction, some say the numbers call for a reorganization.

“Members of the council on aging board, the finance committee, and the board of selectmen have encouraged me at different times to ask for what the department needs,” COA Director Judi Wilson wrote to Town Administrator John Kelly on Nov. 14. “We have experienced unprecedented growth in the population we serve and the services we provide and have made significant improvements in the efficiency and quality of services.

“The council on aging,” she continued, “is approaching a point that without an additional staff member to assist with programs and personnel, we may need to assess what compromises will be needed in the delivery of our programs and services as we simply cannot keep pace with current demand with our existing staff.”

That's what led Wilson to take what she called “the unorthodox route” of presenting three versions of her budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1: an “as is” with no changes save a 3 percent increase; a “reorg” version that meets the town-wide operating budget cap of 2.5 percent but reduces the adult social day care program from five days to four, eliminates the position of one clerical and technical co-director and increases the responsibilities of another (“This does not meet the existing needs of the council on aging department,” Wilson wrote); and a third version that includes the reorganization as well as a new position of assistant director, requiring an 8.3 percent increase.

As of Feb. 17, the third proposal had been whittled down to an overall 5.5 percent increase, aided by an expected 4.5 percent drop in expenses. The proposed program coordinator (formerly requested as assistant director) would supervise nine of the 15 staffers that now report directly to Wilson.

The adult social day care program, the only one in Brewster, Chatham, Harwich and Orleans, has been caught up in the ongoing issue of reorganization. In the last six months of 2015, 13 local residents and 28 from other towns (the latter pay more) received services; attendees' average age was 85. For the frail seniors and their caregivers, the program provides needed variety and relief. Besides the regional connection, Wilson said accepting clients from nearby towns “allows for a greater spectrum of services. With larger numbers, we're able to do more.”

The proposed reduction of the adult day program from five days to four has been criticized in the community. “I stand by my decision,” Wilson said at the March 20 selectmen's meeting. “We did have to make cuts. By moving to four days, Orleans seniors will not be impacted.” Even so, she noted, “I underestimated how people felt about the adult day program.”

Wilson also said the COA board has been frustrated because it's not involved in the budget process, and suggested that the selectmen could change the council's charge to allow participation. Selectmen Vice Chair David Dunford, the board's liaison with the COA, was receptive.

The board planned to discuss the reorganization March 27. Selectman Alan McClennen urged that it appear as a separate agenda item “so it's not just lost in a $34 million budget.”