The Hancock-Henderson Quill, Inc.

HCHD's Controversial Cuts to WIAAA Programs

by Jacob Irish, Quill Reporter

Gladstone- Discussion about the Henderson County Health Department's (HCHD) decision to cut all programs associated with the WIAAA grants started at approximately 2 p.m. Wednesday, May 13th.

Aware that the community had other pressing concerns about the financial state of the Henderson County Health Department, Administrator Lynn Haase stated that she would only be answering questions about the WIAAA grants.

Upon arrival at the community forum, attendees were met at the door by Gloria Short, the Health Department's administrator of 15 years leading up to her retirement in 2008. With her, Short had a list of 17 questions, some targeted towards the recent loss of WIAAA funding, and others directed towards the nature of the Henderson County Health Department under its current administration.

Haase announced to the community that the HCHD will no longer be providing the programs funded by the WIAAA grants. These programs include: Information and Assistance, Outreach, Senior Center, Transportation, Congregate Meals, Home Delivered Meals, Access Assistance, SHAP, Options counseling, MIPPA.

These cuts were noted to be due to the Health Departments inability to fund these programs with the allotted $125,071 provided by WIAAA. Haase stated that the WIAAA grants adding up to $125,071 in 2014 require a 15% match. This match isn't the only financial struggle the Health Department has been facing. "The 15% match means nothing, they cost way more than the 15% match to carry out" Haase stated, talking about the other administrative costs associated with the grants.

Haase noted that the administrative costs essential to the success of the WIAAA programs are not feasible for the Health Department to take on. Haase urges the community to step back and think of the "behind the scenes" costs of running these programs. Yes, the Health Department did get $125,071 in WIAAA grant money for the programs, but the Health Department also has to pay salaries and mileage to employees carrying out these programs.

When asked if the HCHD had considered salary cuts Haase responded quickly, noting that she has made several salary cuts over the years in order to make their budget fit the WIAAA programs.

"We have taken salary cuts: We have been making salary cuts since I have been administrator to meet our budget."

Although Lynn and her colleagues were obviously distraught about their inability to keep the WIAAA programs afloat, she stated, "We are the only Health Department in Illinois that has the WIAAA grant. They should be a part of some type of 501C3 charitable organization that can do fundraising. We cannot fundraise for operating expenses."

Throughout the entirety of this forum, Haase was met with stark opposition from Gloria Short. The arguments carried on throughout the hour long forum veering from questions about programs for Henderson Counties elderly population, to targeted questions infused with personal vendetta.

The HCHD now has to deal with the pressures of its own community. It is obvious that the health agency has some cleaning up to do, but that is not what is important now. What is important is the state of the Henderson County's geriatric community. What happens now? Who will take over these programs and ensure that Henderson County's elderly are taken care of?

The future of Henderson County's future in geriatric services was put into context at the HCHD board meeting on Thursday, May 14th.

Barbara Eskildsen, the executive director of Western Illinois Area Agency on Aging, paid a visit to the meeting in order to explain the relations between WIAAA and the HCHD as well as the future of WIAAA's programs.

Eskildsen made it clear that it was completely the decision of HCHD to forfeit the WIAAA grants. She noted that the HCHD had given her a 30 day notice that they would no longer be able to financially support the programs. This came as a shock to Eskildsen because of her 15 years as Executive director of WIAAA an organization had never given her this short of notice.

Tom Pullin, of Gladstone, motivated with curiosity and a genuine care for the county's elderly population questioned Eskildsen to fill in the pockets of information of which he had not been informed about.

Pullin was astonished to find out that the Health Department did not have to get rid of all the WIAAA programs; he had originally been convinced that partnership with WIAAA was an all-or-nothing deal.

Pullin made it clear that he was not happy about the decision to get rid of the WIAAA grants. He believes that it is the HCHD's obligation to assist the elderly in Henderson County.

He believed it to be a disservice to the community to vote away such programs without first knowing all of the facts.

According to Barbara Eskildsen, the HCHD could have opted to keep two programs (transportation & Home Delivered meals) and forfeited the others. Listening to Eskildsen made it clear that HCHD had not followed appropriate measures to ensure the survival of these programs.

When asked if WIAAA offers assistance to organizations that are struggling to make the grants work, Eskildsen noted that WIAAA does offer "Technical Assistance" to organizations that need help structuring their programs to align with yearly budgets.

However, Eskildsen stated the HCHD had only asked for this assistance when it came to managing the Home Delivered Meals Program.

Pullin and the rest of the board seemed to finally understand the structure of the WIAAA grants in connection to the HCHD. With this information they began to sprout ideas on how to now make the programs work. Pullin, concerned for his community, asked Eskildsen "who will take these programs over? Can we [HCHD] still decide to offer these programs?"

Eskildsen didn't say the HCHD could not continue to get the funding and offer the programs, but she also didn't say they could. Eskildsen made it clear that WIAAA will "not stand steady;" she made it clear that she has an obligation to serve the people of Henderson County, and she will do so.

Eskildsen confidently stated that in order for the HCHD to continue stewardship of the WIAAA grants they would have to approach the WIAAA board and convince them that the HCHD is able and willing to carry out these programs, while also explaining what has changed for the HCHD to reverse their decision.

The road from here on out is bound to be a rocky one, but Eskildsen assured the HCHD board that WIAAA will find an organization to take over these programs.

Two organizations are currently deciding whether or not they can manage these programs. If they decide they are not capable Henderson County's elderly will still be served, potentially by an organization from outside of the county.

( Reporter's Note: Now is the time for the residents of Henderson County to make a decision. Either we can sit back and argue about who is responsible for these issues or we can move forward and do what needs to be done. We need to collaborate to find a solution, we need to work together to ensure that those that NEED help the most are getting the help that they DESERVE. The time for finger pointing is over, the time for forgiveness and unity is now.)