Meal, care programs seeing increase

EVART — When it's cold outside and snow and ice cover the ground, things tend to slow down in Osceola County. However, the Osceola County Commission on Aging's 2015 annual report showed significant increases in growth in almost all areas.

COA Executive Director Scott Schryer credits word of mouth and marketing through the Area Agency of Aging for the increase in clients. I his report he also discusses the services with local groups, boards, committees and organizations around the county.

"We are busting at the seams," said Schryer. "It's wonderful. The clientele is out there and I believe in the 2014 picture of the county there were just over 23,000 people and we know 5,500 of them are 65 or older, and with our programs we dealing with about 600 of them. We know there are more out there that can use our services."

Two of the most prominent services provided by the COA are its congregate meals, and home-delivered meal programs. Schryer reported the number of congregate meals served has risen to more than 1,100 in the past two years. Home-delivered meals now total more nearly 5,000 in two years.

Currently congregate meals are served three days a week, and Schryer hopes to add a fourth day in the near future because of the need he sees. Congregate and home-delivered programs each increased by 10 percent.

"The word is definitely spreading," Schryer said. "We're also seeing the participation population grow. When I started, we had eight to 10 people per site. Now, we're looking at 15 to 20 per site. We're not slowing down. Since we started this year it's still increasing."

The COA also offers in-home programs, including personal care, homemaking and respite care. All of them have increased in hours due to demand, which Schryer said was "shocking."

"We've had some remarkable increases in home services," he added. "People are realizing the benefits. Respite service is a huge thing and we increased in 800 hours just in that program last year. The beautiful thing about that is we take care of the caregivers and that relieves our other programs, so I love seeing that one increase."

Personal care has seen an increase of more than 700 hours in one year, while homemaking has seen an increase of 1,100 hours in the same time period.

COA employees and volunteers also assist seniors with traveling to medical appointments, and Schryer reported the number of miles has increased by 30 percent in one year.

Increasing numbers means adequate funds to provide services seniors depend on. The COA receives such funds from a number of resources.

"We figure out how to supplement money by asking the Area Agency on Aging for more funds, which we are doing currently," Schryer said. "United Way also is another great funding source of ours and we asked for an increase on this upcoming budget cycle. We also have the Taste of Osceola and Golf Outing fundraiser each year."

Sometimes, however, the COA needs to look to the community for help with millage proposals or asking for donations from clients.

"More than half of our budget is millage-based, so our requirements for services is that clients be 60 years of age and you live in the county. If you qualify, you get it," Schryer added. "Eventually if it comes down to we're running out of money, we'll start a waiting list and priority numbers will dictate who we serve. We're not there yet, but our budget was saved last year from a $30,000 grant from the Area Agency on Aging and we definitely would have been in the hole without it. This year, we're in talks of getting a little increase — maybe $10,000 to $12,000, but we also have diverted some of our millage funds to help. We know this year we're budgeted."

Statewide, commission on aging millage requests are capped at 1 mill. The Osceola County COA's former millage, first implemented in 1986, is sitting at eight-tenths of a mil and Schryer said the commission is at the point where they are growing enough to debate asking for another millage. He said he hopes to send out a survey this year asking if the community would support one or rather would see a waiting list system.

In addition to increasing numbers of those who take advantage of the services provided by the COA, Schryer said staff turn over, which is typically high in such a field, significantly decreased. Last year, only five of 35 employees resigned. Two retired and one went to a full-time position outside of the COA. Two in-home staff have been added.

Schryer believes the dynamic between increasing numbers of senior citizens and the decreasing population of the county will keep his position and involvement in the county interesting to watch.

"It's interesting because you find two types of seniors in this county: you have the ones who have a wonderful support system, multiple family members and everyone is looking in on them; and then you have the polar opposite who have nobody. Their neighbors don't know their names, their kids don't live in the area or they don't have any.

We exist more for those of the latter group, but we don't know if this is just a baby-boomer rush or is it going to change in the next couple of years. I don't know and it's an intriguing thing we are trying to study and quantify, but I don't know how to right now."

Moving forward, Schryer sees only progress for the commission and is proud of its current standing.

"I'm always looking to improve," he said. "We've added activities during and after the meal sites, hosted dances, and we're looking at the possibility of doing dinner theater or dinner and a movie. We've been able to create those social programs and those Medicare and Medicaid assistance.

"I feel like we're doing our mission, which is to take care of the seniors in this county. It's a wonderful thing to give them this service and not send them a bill. It makes me feel good that we're doing the mission of what this department was set up for."