October 23, 2021

County to explore options for senior centers

Cortland County officials will be meeting with town and village leaders to discuss proposed plans for how senior centers may operate when they reopen, following a presentation Thursday at a meeting of a county Legislature committee.

Senior centers around the county have been closed since the start of the pandemic, Cathy Bischoff (D-Cortland), the chair of the Health and Human Services Committee, which met Thursday, said Friday.

During the meeting, Elizabeth Haskins, the director of the Cortland County Area Agency on Aging, gave a presentation on how the needs of older Cortland County residents have changed over the last 50 years and continue to change.

Additionally, she also gave a presentation on how the county spends more money per capita for services — such as providing meals — than neighboring counties, while clients tend to only come once or twice a week to senior centers.

Haskins presented different models of how senior centers might function once they reopen to reduce cost but still maintain services for seniors.

This includes one model in which seniors would come to a hub center in Cortland that would be open five days a week for a few hours with Area Agency on Aging staff and volunteers to provide meals and some services as well in connection to satellite senior centers throughout the county, Bischoff said.

Residents who would need a ride to Cortland would be provided one by the county.

This would allow for flexibility to fulfill federally mandated services, such as providing meals at one location but allowing the other senior centers, such as in Homer, Marathon and Willet, the flexibility to be run with more independence based on municipal needs, she said.

Other models included the senior centers around the county being opened once a week for a few hours with some programming happening, Bischoff said. These would be mostly run by volunteers with some Area Agency on Aging staff supervising.

The Legislature considered closing or curtailing operations of some senior centers several times in recent years to save money but dropped the idea in the face of public opposition.

“The biggest challenge for all of us is how we deliver services and what those services really need to change,” Bischoff said of current efforts to develop a plan.

The key will be to tailor the needs of each community while providing necessary services for seniors, she said.