Livingston County has been asked to make a $500,000 grant to the non-profit group that runs Meals on Wheels so that it can construct a new $2 million building for a kitchen and offices.
County Commissioner Dennis Dolan made a case for the grant to the full County Commission at a recent work session.
As compelling as the case is, however, the County Commission needs to look at Meals and Wheels as just one piece of a disappointing picture of unmet seniors’ needs in our county.
The Meals on Wheels program now cooks and packages its meals in the kitchen of the Hartland Educational Services Center. But the space is so cramped that meals must be packed in the hallways. In addition, the Hartland school district says it plans to reduce the space leased to Community Outreach Services Corp., the non-profit that runs Meals on Wheels, making the site even less suitable.
Under a plan outlined by Dolan to the county commission, Oakland County also would make a $500,000 grant and the nonprofit could then draw down a $1 million grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation which has already been approved but never used. The money would pay for a 4,500-square foot building near U.S. 23 in Hartland Township that would be owned by the nonprofit.
Meals on Wheels delivers 300,000 meals a year in Livingston and West Oakland County. It’s a vital service for seniors.
But so are many other services — adult day care, chore services, elder abuse prevention, and so much more. Many of these are being short-changed as well, according to a recent senior needs assessment done by Livingston Leadership Council on Aging and provided to County Commissioners in May. (The executive summary of the report is available by clicking here.)
• The only adult day care program in the county “is full with a never-ending waiting list.”
• Two senior centers in the county have no paid staff and rely entirely on volunteers to keep the doors open, offering limited support for seniors.
• Funding recently ended for the only program that provided home based senior counseling in the county.
• Services are fragmented, with seniors in rural areas shortchanged in services even though they face more challenges with isolation and transportation.
The same report called for more home care providers, more comprehensive transportation, more adult day care, more supports for substance use disorders, and more prevention support for elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation.
A companion report found that, compared with a similar Michigan county, Livingston seniors’ needs “are not being fully met due to limited resources that foster wait lists, service rationing, and under serving.”
Livingston County seniors receive far fewer service units — 262,040 a year — compared to Monroe County’s 912,853, even though Livingston County has 22 percent more senior citizens. According to the report, it’s a discrepancy that can’t be explained by the fact that our county is more affluent than Monroe County. (The comparison report with Monroe County is available by clicking here.)
The problem won’t go away, not with the senior population projected to increase by 40 percent by 2030 and with the County spending just $80,850 a year in local funds for services to seniors. If it weren’t for $2.4 million in federal and state funding, senior services would be nearly non-existent.
Compared to the $80,850 in local funds going to other senior services, the $500,000 grant to Meals on Wheels sounds like a lot of money. Meals on Wheels is vital to helping seniors stay in their own homes as long as possible. But Meals on Wheels is not enough to help seniors age in place with dignity. They need the other services, too — and more of them than are currently available.
That’s why Meals on Wheels should be part of a larger conversation on the needs of seniors. Erecting a building is tempting — it’s a tangible sign that the county is doing something. Hiring counselors and staffing senior citizens centers gets less attention. It doesn’t lend itself to ground-breaking ceremonies and pictures in the news media.
Yet those are vital to the well-being of seniors, too.
Let’s look at the full picture. Meals on Wheels needs help. And so do many other senior programs. The County Commission should take the lead from the Livingston Leadership Council on Aging and come up with a comprehensive budget for senior services that will help them stay in their homes as long as possible.