The June 17 closing of the program, which started in 1994, leaves a void for 221 clients and the 40 senior companions who provided some 21,000 hours of help each year, said Sue McKillips, executive director of Senior Services of Rock County, which administers the program.
The program matches frail people 60 and older with low-income healthy seniors to help them with shopping, doctor appointments and breaking the isolation that can come with old age.
The Corporation for National and Community Service, an independent federal agency that administers Senior Companion Programs, in a May 19 letter notified McKillips it would terminate its agreement with the Janesville agency.
“After careful review and consultation, we determined that your letter dated May 11, 2010, did not include compelling evidence as to why this agreement should not be terminated,” wrote Linda Sunde, state director of the service. “The plan of correction proposed by your agency in this letter did not adequately address all of the compliance findings and concerns outlined in my letter of April 27, 2010.’’
The service provides funding or the authority for organizations in Wisconsin to operate Senior Companion Programs, Sunde explained.
“In Janesville, we did not provide funding, simply the authority to operate the program under our guidelines and to call it the Senior Companion Program,” she said.
Among the service’s concerns was the Rock County program’s continued noncompliance in several areas of operation. Also, a state program specialist for the Corporation for National and Community Service uncovered several additional problems during a visit.
For example, Senior Companion Program volunteers were used to staff two residential facilities, including working overnight hours, when program guidelines state that companions should not be assigned to long-term care facilities but may serve clients during periods of short-term care.
Also, many Senior Companion Program volunteers were not meeting the required weekly minimum of 15 hours.
“Taken altogether, these findings add up to ineffective management of the Senior Companion Program and failure to comply with the terms and conditions of the Notice of Grant Award,’’ Sunde wrote.
McKillips said she was heartbroken when she received the bad news.
“I’m thinking it’s a done deal,’’ she added during an interview Friday.
For the program to start again, McKillips said Senior Services of Rock County would have to reapply to the state service. An earlier appeal was denied.
Senior Services of Rock County is a nonprofit that matches community volunteers, workers and resources with people in need who are 60 years and older. It operates another half-dozen programs that will continue under McKillips’ leadership.
The services help older residents stay in their homes and enhance their quality of life, according to Senior Services’ website.
Meanwhile, McKillips sent a letter June 15 notifying clients and companions that the program would end.
“It is with the greatest of regret and concern that I write this letter announcing the termination of our Senior Companion Program of Rock County as of June 17, 2010,’’ she wrote in the letter.
“The Corporation of National and Community Service state office has informed us that we are not in compliance with their guidelines and have terminated the Senior Companion Program in Rock County. Senior Services has met with the corporation but has not received a new agreement as of this date.’’
Once the local program ended, so did funding for the program that cost $136,719 to operate last year.
Money was provided to the program by United Way of North Rock County, $25,950; Stateline United Way, $8,000; Education Veterans & Aging Services, $24,317; Rock County Council On Aging, $5,568; Rock County long-term support, $55,393; community donations, $15,833; Thrivent Lutheran, $1,600; Ecolab, $3,500; and a rummage sale, $628.
Representatives of some of the program’s funding sources met July 1 to discuss finding an organization to pick up the program. Another meeting is set for Aug. 13.
“We want to make sure this program is redeveloped somehow and some way in our community. It really did fill a large need, and we want to make sure that’s happening in our community,’’ said Gail Graham, president of United Way of North Rock County.
While other programs provide door-to-door service for needy seniors, the Senior Companion Program goes further by accompanying clients through their trips and helping them in additional ways.
Joyce Lubben, director of the Rock County Council on Aging, agreed on the need for the program:
“We’re mindful of the gap this has created in the community, and we’re trying to figure out a way to fill that gap and to do what we can to minimize the impact of this whole thing. We’ve all had calls from people sobbing because they don’t know what they’re going to do. It’s troublesome.’’