Stanislaus County supervisor critical of senior meal provider

09/25/2012 6:32 PM

09/25/2012 6:36 PM

Seniors never should go hungry because administrators lose track of how much money they’re spending.

That message came through loud and clear Tuesday as Stanislaus County supervisors scolded their Area Agency on Aging, which oversees contractor-run Meals on Wheels and senior group lunches.

“The most vulnerable people in the community relied on us for food,” said Bill O’Brien, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

He referred to a near disaster this spring, when meals were sharply reduced as demand swelled because the agency and its nonprofit contractor since 2006, the Howard Training Center, fell asleep at the switch.

Private donations of $145,000 kept meals going to the oldest and most frail, but others — mostly poor — went without a combined 18,389 meals in May and June. More than 2,500 seniors rely on the meals, said Patty Hill Thomas, assistant chief executive officer.

“It just got out of our hands,” said cq Margie Palomino, director of Stanislaus County’s Department of Aging and Veteran Services. “We forgot to keep a running total and before we knew it, we were out of money.”

O’Brien said staff’s presentation Tuesday was long on excuses and short on apology. People can get by without some other government services for a couple of months without much pain, but food is another story, he said.

Addressing seniors, O’Brien said, “Our contractor messed up, but more importantly, your county messed up and the Board of Supervisors is extremely sorry that occurred.”

A $5,000 audit blamed the Howard Training Center’s management turnover and poor communication with the agency, which should have done more to follow up.

Hill Thomas said changes should give leaders confidence that the error won’t be repeated. Instead of reckoning a yearly contract, the county will reimburse the Howard Training Center monthly, according to terms unanimously approved Tuesday by supervisors.

O’Brien was miffed at having no choice but to give the center another nine months of work while the county seeks bids for a new four-year contract starting July 1.

“This kind of forces us into a box,” he said. “If we don’t approve this today, (meals) stop on Monday. We’re forced to extend this contract.”

Supervisor Jim DeMartini said he has visited group lunch sites in West Side communities, among 14 throughout the county. Those involved have learned from mistakes, he said.

“I found it efficiently run. The meals were warm and the food was pretty good,” DeMartini said. “This program serves a good purpose, especially for homebound seniors. The Howard Training Center is doing a good job providing and delivering food on time, it’s nutritious, they’re courteous and I’m very impressed.”

The provisional contract gives the center $682,650 — $502,650 for Meals on Wheels and $180,000 for group lunches — broken into nine parts over the next nine months. The center must put in an additional $80,363 and historically has exceeded that amount.

Also, suggested donations from seniors themselves will rise from $2 to $3 per meal; the average contribution comes to 16 cents for delivered meals and 75 cents at lunch sites.

Online: www.howardtrainingcenter.com/sections/services; www.agingservices.info/htc-senior-meals.shtm

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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