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Elderly Caught in Middle of Dispute Over Centers' Funds

Second of two parts

November 13, 1986|DOUG BROWN | Times Staff Writer

White-haired men and women clutched the speaker's lectern for support as they pleaded, often with eyes welling with tears, for the Orange County Board of Supervisors to restore the $36,505 that its staff had recommended be cut from the budget of the Buena Park Senior Day Care Center.

At this public hearing last May in the supervisors' chambers in Santa Ana, these seniors argued that closing the Buena Park center might force them or their loved ones into nursing homes.

Swayed by these emotional pleas and protests by Buena Park politicians, the supervisors voted to restore all but $6,505 of the $36,505 that the Buena Park center sought.

As a consequence of this change of heart, the Garden Grove Adult Day Care Center will be unable to undertake a much-needed expansion. Nor will the new center planned for Westminster come into existence.

The controversy over the Buena Park center is a harbinger of even more bitter disputes over money for adult day-care centers, said Marilyn Ditty, director of the South Orange County Adult Day Health Care Center and former president of the California Assn. for Adult Day Services. "The county wants to serve all the communities that need centers. The question is: Who's going to pay for them?"

To help resolve the growing financial woes faced by the county's 14 adult day-care centers, county supervisors last September adopted a controversial plan that seeks to establish the future direction of these centers. The supervisors unanimously agreed to authorize its Adult Day Health Care Planning Council to study the feasibility of establishing up to three health centers, either by setting up entirely new facilities or converting existing social centers.

The supervisors also authorized spending up to $75,000 to help set up such health centers on a trial basis if the study determines that they are financially and operationally feasible.

Rationale for Switch

The supervisors' rationale for deciding whether the county should switch its emphasis from social to health centers stems from the fact that these two types of centers are funded in different ways, said Russ Barrios, executive assistant for human services to Ralph B. Clark, chairman of the Board of Supervisors.

Through its Medi-Cal program for low-income people, the state provides reimbursement for qualified seniors to attend health centers. No such reimbursement system exists for social centers, Barrios said.

The supervisors' effort to determine whether adult day-care centers can be largely funded by the state's Medi-Cal program was prompted because the recently passed Gramm-Rudman-Hollings deficit reduction act calls for severe cutbacks in federal funds, which traditionally have provided much of the money to operate these centers.

"The Board of Supervisors this year came up with $30,000 (in federal funds) to keep the Buena Park Adult Day Care Center going," said Peggy Weatherspoon, director of the Area Agency on Aging, which administers the county government's adult day-care center program. "Next year, that $30,000 won't be there."

Earlier this year, county government allocated more than $210,000 in federal funds under the Older Americans Act to four of the county's nine nonprofit social centers then in operation, according to Jim Dukette, special programs manager for the county's senior services office.

Moreover, most centers receive federal revenue-sharing grants from county government or the cities they serve. This program is scheduled to end next year, Weatherspoon said.

'Shortfall of Federal Funds'

"In (the fiscal year beginning next July 1) there's going to be a shortfall of federal funds available for adult day-care centers," she said. "As things now stand, we face a crisis starting next July 1.

"I don't see how we can avoid eliminating funding some of these centers unless we come up with alternatives to the federal funds that won't be there next year. These centers are operating on a shoestring now, and any funding cutback would mean the end of many of them."

Opponents of the supervisors' plan don't dispute Weatherspoon on this point, but they argue that the plan won't provide sufficient money to keep the centers operating.

Although money remains the key, the budget crisis is heightened by the fact that oversight, funding and operation of adult day-care centers fall into the disparate provinces of state, county and volunteer agencies with obtuse bureaucratic names and often overlapping functions.

While the supervisors sit atop this system of adult day-care centers, it has delegated daily operational functions to the Area Agency on Aging. The 14-year-old agency, headed by Weatherspoon, is responsible for planning and assessment of elderly needs, along with channeling state and federal funds to centers.

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