By KELLY QUIMBY
In a discussion with state aging officials Friday, many Maury County seniors, including those that frequently utilize the Maury County Senior Center, said transportation services for seniors in the county are beginning to lag behind demand, and congregate meals offered by the senior center are now being limited to only 20 per day.
The problem isn’t limited to Maury County, said Jim Shulman, director of the Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability. Shulman said the nutrition and transportation of seniors have been some of the largest priorities of his agency since he took up his position with the state earlier this year.
Along with staving off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, senior hunger was pegged by his staff as a serious area of concern. In addition, the last needs assessment conducted by his agency identified transportation as the top area to be addressed on behalf of seniors in the state, Shulman said.
“We don’t want people to have to decide between eating and taking their medications,” he said. “We know (those making that choice) are out there, we’ve just got to find them.”
Richard Smith, the web designer for the Maury County Senior Center, told the director he would often call Maury County Public Transportation — 24 hours ahead of time, as required — to schedule a ride to his doctor’s appointments, but with the advent of those on TennCare and Families First also using the service, he has often been left without reliable transportation.
He said the transportation provider makes a better profit by transporting TennCare patients first, leaving himself and other Maury County seniors without adequate preventative care.
“It’s becoming very difficult for seniors to fit into their appointment schedule,” Smith said. “A lot of seniors need this transportation to get to the doctors’ offices. I knew this issue needed to be raised. … We seniors don’t have time. We need to get to our appointments.”
State House Rep. Sheila Butt said the hope is seniors relying on public transportation might see its use by other individuals level off in the coming months, with the passage of a new piece of legislation that removes a requirement that those utilizing Families First make use of public transportation. The removal of the requirement went into effect on July 1, she said.
Staff at the senior center told aging representatives that last week the number of meals provided for the center’s congregate lunch was reduced to 20 for each day. As a result, seniors who had come to rely on the meal and the camaraderie each day at lunch time were turned away.
Director of South Central Tennessee Aging and Disability Joe Evans said the reduction in the number of meals is directly correlated with a loss in profits from the provider of the meals, the South Central Resource Agency. His office, which is housed in Maury County, contracts with SCRA to provide 83,000 congregate meals to the region each year, he said.
Previously, SCRA had used extra profits made from home-delivered meals to provide extra meals to the Maury County Senior Center and other such agencies in the Middle Tennessee region.
“We hope to get some of those meals back, but it won’t get back to how it was before,” he said.
Shulman said his office will try to provide more information programs at the Maury County Senior Center, with topics ranging from Medicare and Social Security to assisted living programs. He also pegged Smith to participate in a study on senior transportation in the near future.
“This stuff is important to you,” he told those present Friday. “We’re looking at better ways to keep up with everything. Our responsibility is to take a look at the big picture and report what we see. Then we work with your legislator to see what we can do about it.”
Questions or comments related to issues facing seniors can be directed to the Tennessee Commission of Aging and Disability at (866) 836-6678, the South Central Tennessee Agency on Aging and Disability at (931) 379-2929 or Rep. Butt’s Nashville office at (615) 741-3005.