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St. Marys Council considers 4 options for Senior Center program change

Council looks to review four options to change the St. Marys Sr. Center Program. One option includes closing the center.

The St. Marys City Council voted to accept the Senior Task Force’s report which presented four options for new governance and operations for the St. Marys Senior Center. The Council also decided to schedule another work session to review the four options.

The St. Marys Senior Center building is owned by the St. Marys Hospital Authority and operated by the City. The joint relationship between the City and the Authority has caused some friction among Authority Board members and city advisory groups related to senior services. The Hospital Authority also helps fund the Senior Center lunch program along with sponsorships to other senior activities and exercise programs.

The task force was created in December 2017 to review the operations of the St. Marys Senior Center to make recommendations to dissolve the Senior Advisory Committee and to update programs at the Senior Center to increase attendance.

There were four options presented to the Council along with a recommendation to accept the dissolve the Senior Advisory Committee. According to the Senior Task Force document presented to the Council, the following four options were recommended:

  • Option 1:  Revitalize St. Marys Senior Center
  • Option 2:  Transfer the responsibilities and operations of St. Marys Senior Center to St. Marys Hospital Authority (dba Senior Authority)
  • Option 3:  Outsource the full operation of St. Marys Senior Center to Camden County Personal Services Administration (PSA) Leisure Services
  • Option4:  Close St. Marys Senior Center and encourage St. Marys seniors to use Camden County Senior Center in Woodbine, Georgia.

The report states that the “Mayor and City Council has the need to redress inconsistent and conflicting expectations, standards, and protocols surrounding Senior Center activities. The correction of these contrary conditions (actual or perceived) through the fostering of unambiguous and comprehensive documents and communications is necessary to accomplish the end goal of providing responsive and well attended senior activities in an all-inclusive, friendly and welcoming environment.” 

The recommendations and options from the Senior Task Force align to the City’s Master Plan and standards defined by The Coastal Area Agency on Aging (AAA), and information gathered from County and City staff and senior community.

The report also recommends that once the Mayor and Council have chosen an option, that the Senior Task Force responsibilities be extended to implement the final option for no more than three months. According to a work session before the Monday’s Council meeting, it was determined that there could be an extension of the task force’s responsibilities to help implement the final option chosen by the City Council.

With all four options, the task force presented information that states that the current program needs change and gave additional recommendations for change in addition to the four options. Those changes are as follows:

  1. Increase Senior Participation
  2. Increase Wellness Program Variety and Opportunities
  3. Increased Facility Resources
  4. Increase Utilization of Area Resources
  5. Automate Record Keeping for Program Tracking, Analysis, and Planning

Task force member, Celoa Foreman said that the program needs more diversity of senior citizens and well as programs.

“We need to look at more diversity in the people that are served and more diversity in the programs that are offered,” said Foreman. “How does the community know about the services and the programs offered? There needs to be more publicity about what is there.”

Tonya Glazebrook, task force chair, said that the program needs to move beyond a lunch program. Glazebrook stated that the current program averages around a daily attendance rate of 31 seniors being funded at more than $4900 per senior. The task force looked at both the City’s and Hospital Authority’s contribution to the program to determine this cost. According to the task force’s findings, less than 4 percent of the population in St. Marys uses the center compared to the national average of 10-20 percent.

“An overemphasis on the food program distracts from better programming and marketing to a broader base. Whichever option [Council] choose[s], there will be no overnight success. It is not acceptable to continue as we operate. If a free lunch is the objective of the program, you can run the program for a lot less,” said Glazebrook.

Glazebrook also mentioned to Council that Option 4 was not the most favored among the Senior Center participants, but they had to include that as an option for comparison.

Most of the questions from Council focused on Option 1, revitalizing the current program. However, Option 2, total control from the Hospital Authority, was an option presented since most of the programs are funded by the Authority.

“The [Hospital Authority] may not be in a position to do this right now,” reports Glazebrook.

Councilman Bob Nutter recommended that wanted to review in depth which option was best for the seniors and wanted to know more before deciding on an option.

” I do not believe moving the center to Woodbine is an option,” said Nutter. ” We do not have the option to seek assistance from the Feds or the state since Woodbine is the only one in the county receiving those funds.”

Nutter suggested that more information needs to be focused to review more viable options. “I do not see a baseline for this report. This [report] defines a good foundation for us to build, but we need to add to the work that has been done.”

During the public comments section of the Council meeting, several senior participants praised the current program and felt Option 4 was not the best choice. Other spoke to how essential the program as being part of their daily lives.

Senior participant, Mark Way, said he enjoys the programs at the Senior Center after moving down to St. Marys six months ago.

“It took me six weeks to find the Senior Center. I see this little tiny sign off the road that says ‘Senior Center’ by the bank. When you first come into town, you need a larger sign by the CVS tell you there is a Senior Center. This place has helped me a lot. Some people cannot go to Woodbine; there is no way they can make it. This Senior Center is very valuable.”

Rindy Howell, Senior Center Director, said ” A need is never a need unless you need it. This Senior Center is a vital part of St. Marys.” Howell states that the task force is looking at cost versus effectiveness of the program. Howell cites a study from the University of Georgia that says for every 30 seniors that are kept active in the community; it saves the taxpayer $300,000 a year. “Seniors are putting back into their community by going shopping and going to restaurants by putting their own money back into their community.”

“We have to decide on what kind of senior program we want. I am dealing with a large amount of diversity already from ages 55 to 102, and each one of them has a different opinion,” said Howell.

Councilman Allan Rassi was asked if Option 1 is selected and the program changes to include more diverse offerings, how will the new changes to the Senior Center program be funded?

“We need to meet with Hospital Authority Board Members to have a list of programs with a cost we need help with,” said Rassi.

The Council voted to review the recommendations from the task force and looks to schedule another work session to review the recommendations and the four options.

Below are the pros and cons of the four options as presented by the Senior Task Force:

Option 1: Revitalize St. Marys Senior Center

  • The most significant difference in the four options is that only in Option 1 does the City maintain full control and, in concert with the Senior Authority, full financial responsibility.
  • Vital to the success of this option is responsive funding (donations) from the Senior Authority to support the ongoing increases in food costs and the additional costs of improved and expanded wellness program activities.
  • The advantages of this option are:
    1. Precise, unambiguous, enforced policies and procedures that minimize confusion and conflict among interested parties.
    2. Eligible St. Marys residents would continue to be in proximity to senior center services.
  • The disadvantages of this option are:
    1. The cost of operating and maintaining the St. Marys Senior Center will continue to escalate, increasing the City tax burden and relying more and more on donations; as well as anticipated user fees.
    2. The significant changes in philosophy and accountability needed to successfully implement and manage the revitalization of the St. Marys Senior Center may be too daunting to accomplish with existing resources.

Option 2: Transfer to Senior Authority

  • In Option 2, with full concurrence of the Senior Authority, the City would transfer the full responsibility of the Senior Center to the Senior Authority. The expectation would be that the Senior Authority would fund programs and services equal to or greater than those outlined in Option 1 and Annex A.
  • The advantages of this option are:
    1. The City would be relieved of the operational responsibilities and costs to operate and maintain the Center and senior services; saving the City budget and taxpayer more than $130,000 per year; plus additional anticipated costs due to improved attendance and growth, program enhancements, and inflation.
    2. The Senior Authority’s sole mission is to provide services to St. Marys seniors. That single focus on one service area should bring more dedicated attention to the Center.  It would also permit the Authority to bring several of its other senior programs into the Senior Center for a central location for services currently provided.
    3. Eligible St. Marys residents would continue to be in close proximity to senior center services.
  • The disadvantages of this option are:
    1. The current Authority leadership may not be in a position to oversee and manage such a transition.
    2. Current participants who reside outside of the City of St. Marys would not be served.

Option 3: Outsource to PSA

  • In Option 3, the City of St. Marys would negotiate and contract with the Camden County Public Service Authority (PSA) to manage and operate the St. Marys Senior Center to the same standards and criteria applied at the Camden County Senior Authority in Woodbine, Georgia.
  • The advantages of this option are:
    1. A professional, qualified, and experienced organization and staff would operate the St. Marys Senior Center in accordance with standard rules and procedures.
    2. The Center would benefit from additional funding and services offered by state and federal agencies that are not currently available to the City. There is the potential of a cost savings for the City.
    3. The Senior Authority could proportionally fund activities for St. Marys residents.
    4. Eligible St. Marys residents would continue to be in close proximity to senior center services.
  • The disadvantages of this option are:
    1. In the near term, some financial responsibilities (to be negotiated) will continue to fall on the City and Senior Authority.
    2. Seniors would experience a change in how services are delivered as the program would be expected to meet Georgia Agency on Aging requirements and change is always difficult.

Option 4: Close and Utilize Woodbine Senior Center

  • In Option 4, the City of St Marys would close the St. Marys Senior Center and encourage eligible seniors to attend the Camden County Senior Center in Woodbine, Georgia; using Coastal Regional Center (CRC) provided bus service or private transportation as desired.
  • The advantages of this option are:
    1. The City would be relieved of the financial and management demands of operating a social services program.
    2. The Senior Authority could use the facility for other purposes serving seniors.
    3. St Marys seniors would expand their contact with other area seniors and would have access to a wider range of active programs and activities.
  • The disadvantages of this option are:
    1. Additional travel time will be required of St. Marys seniors.
    2. In the short term, some financial support may be needed from the City and Senior Authority pending financial support adjustments made by the AAA.

Related articles –

St Marys forces Hospital Authority audits, Attorney General’s Office asks for records

St. Marys Hospital Authority: No violation of open meetings law, Senior Center operations reviewed

Below is the entire report.

SM SC Study_2018_dft_14_mod2 (1)

Jeremy Spencer grew up in rural South Georgia and has served as a healthcare provider, high school science teacher, school administrator, and state education official. Jeremy is currently the market and content manager for All on Georgia-Camden and Glynn Counties. Jeremy’s focus is local news, statewide education issues, and statewide political commentary for the All on Georgia News Network. Jeremy has served as an education policy analyst for local legislators and state education leaders as well as a campaign strategist for local and statewide political campaigns. Jeremy holds degrees in science and education from the University of Georgia, Piedmont College, and Valdosta State University. Jeremy has lived in Camden County for over 17 years.

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