‘Our job is not a glamorous job, but it’s a very important job’
By Matt Young, WV Press Association
CHARLESON, W.Va. – The challenges of providing senior-care was the topic of conversation on Sunday, as the Select Committee on PEIA, Seniors and Long Term Care met during the first day of the West Virginia Legislature’s September Interim Session.
Jennifer Brown, executive director of the Council on Aging – All Care Home and Community Services in Wyoming County, and president of the statewide Association of W.Va. Directors of Senior and Community Services, presented the committee with a general overview of the current situation, before taking questions.
“I’m here today to reinforce the relationships and the partnerships that we have with the State of West Virginia and its agencies,” Brown began. “And to make you aware of our interests in assessing our state’s senior population and the services it needs.”
Brown reassured the committee that the association is well aware of the difficulties the COVID-19 pandemic has created with regard to providing senior-care, saying, “[That is why] our member agencies have asked the WVU Bureau of Business and Economic Research to gather information about the needs of the elderly, and the services our members provide.”
“We know that the pandemic changed our communities,” Brown noted. “We are committed to better understanding the needs – today – of the elderly residents we serve.”
Brown explained that the majority of the association’s service providers – which consists of private, nonprofit organizations – have been established within their communities for more than half-a-century. She further explained that the association shares the goals established by the passage of 1965’s Federal Older Americans Act, which are to “help older Americans live in their homes and communities with dignity and independence for as long as possible.”
“Those remain our goals today,” Brown added. “We believe that our programs are the most cost-effective means to accomplish our important mission to enhance the quality of life of senior citizens.”
According to Brown, the Association of W.Va. Directors of Senior and Community Services currently provide assistance to more than 30,000 West Virginia residents – most of whom are low income. The association also employs “more than 3,000 individuals across the state”
Senior care professionals provide a wide array of services, including food delivery, bathing assistance, housekeeping, medication monitoring and administration, general and medical transportation, and assistance for those with mental or emotional disorders.
“We are important to senior citizens, their families, and the economy of West Virginia communities,” Brown added.
Sen. Eric Nelson Jr., R-Kanawha, was the first committee member to question Brown, saying, “Let’s get to the financial side of things – how about updating the committee on what your annual budget is.”
“I would say it’s about $300,000 for my agency (All Care Home and Community Services),” Brown replied. “But statewide, I don’t know what the number is.”
Committee Co-chair Del. Matthew Rohrbach, R-Cabell, echoed Nelson’s curiosity as to the budget, adding, “Full disclosure, I sit on the board of a senior citizens center. I know all too well the financial stresses that we’re under. I think we do need full disclosure of some of the finances in the near future.”
In response to a question from Sen. Charles Clements, R-Wetzel, regarding the employee-to-volunteer ratio, Brown said, “We don’t have a whole lot of volunteers. Our board members are all volunteers, and there are some volunteers in the senior-center. But as far as delivering meals, there are very few counties that have people who volunteer.”
“Do you find that it’s a challenge to keep employees?” Clements then asked.
“Yes, we’re very challenged,” Brown replied. “Not necessarily to keep employees, but to recruit new employees to cover the need that we’ve experienced the last few years. Our job is not a glamorous job, but it’s a very important job. We’re in desperate need of some caring and compassionate people.”
Brown further explained how oftentimes, even those who apply for positions aren’t necessarily seeking employment, adding, “We’ll get a lot of applications who will apply. But then when we call them, they’ll say ‘we’re sorry, we can’t come in.’”
According to Brown, many of these individuals are only submitting applications to satisfy the requirements necessary to remain eligible for unemployment benefits, and are not truly seeking a job. Brown indicated that additional monitoring in the form of “follow-up contact” on the part of WorkForce West Virginia would be helpful in mitigating this situation.
Although Brown did not know how many care-provider positions are currently open statewide, she advised the committee that, “In my agency (All Care Home and Community Services) in particular, we would like to hire about 25 to 30 people right now – we could use that many.”
After the conclusion of the current Interim Session on Tuesday, no further sessions are scheduled until after the Nov. 8 general election. Therefore, the Select Committee on PEIA, Seniors and Long Term Care will reconvene between Nov. 13 and 15.