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County back in charge of senior meal prep

March 23, 2012
By MIKE HUGHES - Times Leader Staff Writer , Times Leader

ST. CLAIRSVILLE - One selling point for the Belmont County Commissioners in choosing not to renew Belmont Senior Services' contract was that the commission was looking for a better way to spend senior service levy dollars.

In doing so, it placed the services under the auspices of the Belmont County Department of Job & Family Services. The senior arm of DJFS is now entitled Seniors Services of Belmont County.

One area believed to be a path to savings as outsourcing the meal preparation for the congregate meals delivered to the county's senior centers as well as the more than 600 home-delivered meals each weekday.

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MEAL PREPARATION for homebound seniors and congregate meals served at the seniors centers throughout Belmont County is once again being conducted in-house. Senior Services of Belmont County is handling the work, previously contracted out to Belmont Community Hospital.

This was accomplished by having Belmont Community Hospital in Bellaire handle the meal prep while SSBC would still take care of the delivery.

In doing so, the kitchen staff previously working in the basement of BSS was let go. Some were retained in other areas of SSBC, some weren't. Some weren't to work for Belmont Community Hospital.

The move cut the coss down to roughly $3.50 per meal. However, it is the transfer of food from one entity to another for transportation which necessitated greater oversight and regulation according to the state's Department of Agriculture.

What wound up happening is the cost effectiveness angle quickly eroded and SSBC decided the best course of action was to return the preparation operations under SSBC control.

"We've brought back all of the former BSS staff," supervisor Tina Burkhart explained. "Not everyone in the kitchen now is from the former kitchen staff. There are some (home health) aides now working in the kitchen.

"But it made the transition back to preparation so much easier because everyone already was on board and knew what to do."

Fortunately, SSBC had the equipment on hand to start back up its operation, ending a whirlwind of failed ideas and potential moves that began with BSS.

Belmont Senior Services sought to purchase the former South School Property in Martins Ferry to relocate its offices.

The plans also called for a new kitchen to be built inside the facility.

With BSS no longer in the picture, those plans were put on hiatus.

No construction has taken place at the facility in regards to the previously proposed move.

When SSBC took over, its intention was to have Belmont Community Hospital cook the meals. Fortunately for SSBC, while it took its equipment off line, it was never sold.

"Thankfully, we just basically mothballed the equipment, if you will," said Dwayne Pielech, the director of DJFS.

"We locked everything down and had some discussion about whether to auction off the equipment but we wanted to make sure the outside contactor would work.

"In hindsight, I'm glad that we did it this way."

Burkhart estimates her workers prepare roughly 750 meals per day since taking back over prep operations.

Of that total, 675 are home-bound deliveries. The remaining generally consist of the congregate meals transported to the county's senior centers.

"Because they were making the meals and we were delivering it, there was a whole different set of standards," Pielech said.

"There were 30 or so actual items on the menu that they weren't permitted to serve, like seafood, fresh cut meats, salads ... because of the added regulation."

In house, Pielech and the commissioners estimated the increased cost per meal is around 50 cents.

Per month, he said, you're looking at roughly $8,000 in increased meal prep costs.

To Pielech, that's a worthwhile expense to insure the operation is overseen in-house from start to finish.

And SSBC is looking at ways to offset the increased cost.

Pielech didn't go into detail but believes there are a few possibilities approaching that would curtail the overall cost and not affect the Senior Service Levy's ledger.

Hughes may be reached online at



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