BOC Hears Lake Seniors, DAV Backlash
By Dianne Alward-Biery
Cleaver Staff Writer
HARRISON – The visitor gallery in the Clare County Commissioners Board Room was packed at the Feb. 21 meeting. Many of those were county employees attending to report on their departments’ status or needs, but about a dozen of them attended to have their voices heard regarding the recent closure of the Senior Services meal site which was housed in the Disabled American Veterans facility in Lake. The Lake site, which served between three and 10 seniors, had been closed by a Board of Commissioner motion following a request by Lori Phelps, Senior Services/Council on Aging director.
The Board heard from several people, and chairperson Karen Lipovsky allowed them far more than their permitted three minutes to express their concerns.
Joy Smith spoke assertively and at length about how important it has been to her and other seniors to be able to meet for meals and social time at the site. She also directed much anger toward Phelps, who had made the final decision to request the site closure, refuting the cited failings of the site and accusing Phelps of lying and not caring about the Lake seniors.
Phelps said that despite the fact seniors who had frequented the meal site had been offered transportation to other meal sites, or to have their meals home-delivered, or to have those same meals delivered to the DAV building, no one had availed themselves of the opportunity.
Other visitor comments compared the former DAV site and Lake George site ADA accessibility, and much was made of the fact that the sign at the Lake George site was smaller than the one at Lake. Phelps said the sign was purchased by Lake George and had nothing to do with Senior Services.
Issue also was taken with statements made to the Board of Commissioners by Phelps and others at the January BOC meeting regarding the condition of the DAV facility, namely occasions of bed bugs and mice, structural shortcomings, trip hazards and more.
Also addressing the Board Feb. 21 was Joseph Stragea, DAV Chapter 105 Adjutant Commander. Stragea told the Board his agreed upon appointment with Phelps, to define problems at the site, had been canceled. Stragea said while he was waiting for another opportunity to meet with her, Phelps had taken site closure to the Board at its January meeting. He took great issue with the negative comments made by Phelps and others at the meeting regarding the condition of the DAV building. He also cast aspersions on the actions of not only Phelps, but also the Board.
“We’ve had no complaints in 30 years, and now we’re slum lords?” Stragea said.
He went on to say Phelps comments amounted to libelous allegations and outright lies, adding that if there had been a serious issue, why had there been no failed health or fire department inspections?
“We are not in business to be anybody’s scapegoat for anyone’s personal agenda,” he said.
Stragea said the DAV wants its good name restored, and said the DAV requires an apology from Phelps. He also implied that there was a covert agenda with collusion by the Board.
Jack Kleinhardt, vice chairperson, told the visitors he had read an article which said there is “a tsunami on the way” of Baby Boomers who soon will number 63 million and whose needs will have to be met.
“It’s not easy, but we have to take a look at the whole picture,” Kleinhardt said. “There are [many] in this county – we don’t even know who they all are – who need assistance. I don’t blame you for being angry about the decisions we have to make.”
Stragea replied that he did not take issue with the business decisions the Board must make, but that Baby Boomers are the largest segment of the population, and “We don’t want to do business with thugs.”
Lipovsky then closed the public comment period, saying “Thank you all for coming in.”
Phelps has remained steadfast in her statements regarding bed bugs and mice, but also has said the closure had been under consideration for a couple years. She also has said the long-term goal is to have two large centralized sites. That projection places the Harrison center in service to the northern half of the county and another one likely near Farwell to serve the county’s southern half. Phelps has been working for years to bring the adult day care facility to Harrison which will open this spring. She said the plan is to eventually have another adult day care at the southern site.
Phelps continues to make it clear that the funding her department receives through grants, particularly the USDA funds, have conditions governing their use. Some of that includes strict guidelines for sanitation and safety.
A dining-associated social activity is no doubt highly beneficial and important to any senior. However, limited resources demand tough choices in order to best serve the greatest number and most needy of seniors. Ultimately, a higher priority must be given to ensuring seniors have nutritious food to eat and essential in-home hygienic health care than to providing a place for others to socialize.