Senior services active and upgrading

By ROBERT A. DEFRANK

Times Leader Staff Writer

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Belmont County Senior Services has paid off the construction of its new headquarters and is upgrading the fleet, but the department is facing personnel challenges in serving the area’s senior population.

Director Gary Armitage reviewed his department’s current and future activities as of April during gave an operational update he delivered Wednesday to Commissions Josh Meyer, J.P. Dutton and Jerry Echemann. The commissioners also recognized May as Older Americans Month.

“Our primary mission is a simple one. That mission is to minimize the need for institution for the seniors in the county,” Armitage said, adding that his department provides a wide range of the services to meet the diverse needs of the seniors.

Armitage announced the final loan and interest payment of $1,243,109.40 was made in April on the new senior services department headquarters. The building opened its doors in 2017. Construction of the building took almost two years and cost more than $6 million.

“It was a 100-year-old building and we were in the basement for 30 years,” Armitage said.

Armitage also gave an update on the service fleet, saying that a total of eight vehicles have been ordered and received, four for medical transportation and four for meal deliveries. He added that the department will also purchase two handicapped-accessible vehicles, two all-wheel drive sedans and four additional food service trucks before the end of 2019.

Armitage said the department plans to expend more than $700,000 and transportation usually involves one or two passengers.

“There was a mass-buy of vehicles back in 2011, and with the building of the community support building, we’ve had to put the upgrade of that fleet on hold for a few years in order to meet the payment deadlines of the new building,” he said. “When all these vehicles were bought the same year, everything starts deteriorating at the same time. … What we’ve been trying to do is extend the life of some of these vehicles out so that we can get multiple years of purchasing in, so we’re rotating our fleet.”

Armitage added that the current labor agreement expired March 31 and negotiations between union and county representatives continue.

There are currently 67 full-time and part-time staff employed at the agency. Armitage said they are currently considering additional drivers to cover center and meal delivery, since the consumer base is expanding.

Armitage also reported his departments have received levy funds to the tune of $3,025,818. Total revenues generated thus far come to $3,267,808.93

He listed the office’s primary contract services through the Area Agency on Aging. Meanwhile, the annual payroll is about $2.7 million.

“Levies are the lifeblood of the organization,” he said. “It allows us to do a lot of things that I believe that are only done in this county.”

He added that total appropriated expenses for 2019 is $6,101,031.26. Expenses so for have been $2,724,677.87 and revenues $3,267,808.92.

In terms of nutritional services, Armitage said there are about 2,000 residents on the service list at any time. He said any resident of Belmont County age 60 or older may join a senior center and be eligible.

“We have already provided a total — through April 30 — of 76,465 (meals),” he said. Of those, 70,756 are home-delivered.

Armitage noted transportation needs were the second most extensive need his department fills.

“We provide a significant amount of transportation for (visits to) doctors, dentists,” he said, adding that they have provided 9,740 transportation trips for senior center attendees and to people relying on medical transportation, covering 91,000 miles.

“We currently provide about 80 percent of transportation for the 60-and-older population for dialysis. That runs six days a week,” Armitage said.

He also mentioned homemaking and person care, with 2,450 hours of service through two contractors, Just Right Home Care and Advanced Home Health.

“Our homemaker and personal care contract are probably our largest operation issue. We’ve been increasingly running into delays in people getting assigned caregivers and caregivers not showing up for appointments,” Armitage said, adding that the county may have to go into bidding to try and find additional contractors. “Both agencies that we contract with are having a tremendous problem in hiring and maintaining employees. … Personal care services is tough. It’s hard on people and you do a lot of travel.”

Armitage added that the department may need to look at upgrading the operating system soon, since Microsoft will no longer support the operating system in 2020.

The website, ssobc.com, has also undergone renovations.

The commissioners commended Armitage and the staff on their work.

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