Senior Services Center faces more cuts in Will County

More cuts coming to Will County Senior Services Center: "This is the reality of social services."

More cutbacks and changes are coming to the Senior Services Center of Will County, as the independent non-profit agency struggles with lower state payments and fewer grants and contributions.

"This is the reality of social services. We have to be lean and mean and cost-effective and continue to help those in need," said Duffy Blackburn, treasurer of the center's board of directors.

He said the center previously reduced its senior meals program and will now look at staff and program cuts.

On Monday, the board asked for and received the resignation of the agency's longtime executive director, Pat Hensley, and will seek to combine her position with that of a development director.

"Her leadership is not what we needed. We need to bring in someone who can raise funds," Blackburn said.

The parting was "amicable," he said, adding that Hensley, who worked 34 years at the center, including 20 years as director, will assist through the transition. Mary Pat Frye, director of the center's coordinated care unit, will serve as interim director.

The board also will bring in an outside consultant on a volunteer basis to compile an accounting of all center programs "so we will be able to make decisions based on costs and the numbers served," said Blackburn, who's also the Will County auditor. "There are changes to come."

The Senior Services Center is funded through grants, charities and tax levies in Lockport and Joliet townships. It receives $130,000 a year from the United Way and another $350,000 in charitable and local contributions, Blackburn said. Most of the grants require a local match.

It has relied on a $400,000 line of credit to help with cash flow when grant payments were late, but "we kept pushing the line of credit," Blackburn said. "This is not the direction we need to go."

Just prior to her departure, Hensley was seeking funds from the towns the center serves because the agency was reaching the limits of its line of credit

Since 1967, the center has provided a variety of services to senior citizens and their families, including informational, social and nutritional programs. The staff assists seniors who are in need of long-term care, provides in-home services to those who are frail, addresses elder abuse and offers assistance with health programs such as Medicare and Medicaid and assists family caregivers.

The center delivered daily meals to about 600 seniors in Will County who are 60 and older and unable to provide their meals and also to about 120 more who gather at nine sites.

The Northeastern Illinois Area Agency on Aging has taken over the senior meals program, a transition that Blackburn said will be "seamless," with the same staff and food. He said the program accounted for $1.1 million of the center's $3.8 million yearly budget.

At upcoming meetings, the center's board will evaluate a list of possible changes regarding staff, programs and operations, Blackburn said, and it will seek advice from its partners and community members.

"We will make it more cost effective so we can continue to operate," he said.

In January, Hensley cut back the lunch program, eliminating lunches on Wednesdays, and also eliminated a twice-weekly shuttle bus service in Joliet to take seniors shopping. She also had staff take unpaid furlough days.

slafferty@tribpub.com

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