Originally created 03/31/04

Meal critics surprise director



Augusta's Senior Citizens Council's executive director said he was not aware of any dissatisfaction among senior citizens in the 14 counties his agency provides meals for until the contract was abruptly rebid and awarded to a Florida for-profit company.

Ron Schoeffler also said he didn't know the decision to rebid was based on a CSRA Regional Development Center survey last summer that purportedly found five counties dissatisfied with the senior nutrition program.

"We were not aware of surveys or complaints," Mr. Schoeffler said Tuesday, a day after calling a news conference to blast the development center and its executive director, Andy Crosson. "We will be writing a letter today, asking for copies."

The survey was partially the basis for rebidding the contract that was awarded last week to for-profit G.A. Food Services Inc., Mr. Crosson said.

The award will cost Augusta 31 jobs and a $600,000 annual payroll and about $2 million of its $3.2 annual budget, Mr. Schoeffler said.

The Senior Citizens Council is a subcontractor for the development center, in which the Area Agency on Aging is located. It is a planning and funding agency that receives state and federal money and allocates it to service providers such as the Senior Citizens Council.

The Augusta Chronicle obtained copies of the surveys from Mr. Crosson on Tuesday. The surveys simply asked each county's board of commissioners whether they were interested in collaborating with a local facility to provide congregate and homebound meals for its senior citizens and to check yes or no. The survey also asked them to identify potential providers.

Mr. Schoeffler contends the surveys and Mr. Crosson's complaints about the nutrition program are a sham. The center has daily feedback forms that can be returned from the 14 nutrition centers overnight. Quarterly menu planning meetings are also held with senior center directors, where complaints are addressed.

"The Regional Development Center should have made those complaints available to us and talked with us about those, so we could have addressed those complaints," he said.

Mr. Crosson said the decision to rebid also was based on the Senior Center's cash-flow and financial-management problems which, among other things, prompted the development center board to direct him to meet with Mr. Schoeffler twice during the past year and a half.

"We had been afraid because of their financial problems and cash-flow problems one day we'd wake up and they're not going to be there, and we've got to figure out how to get meals delivered," Mr. Crosson said.

The Augusta Commission kept four city senior centers open last year with a $130,000 bailout. Audits of the council found a history of poor record-keeping and irresponsible spending.

"Let's talk about why we've got a cash-flow problem," Mr. Schoeffler said. "The Regional Development Center is a big part of why we had a cash-flow problem. The RDC has been slow up until the past two months in reimbursing us for services provided to them.

"Let's talk about Medicaid reimbursements because of the Medicaid situation in Georgia for reimbursements to hospitals, nursing homes, physicians, as well as the Georgia Community Care Services program providers which are Medicaid funded services."

The Senior Citizens Council is a Medicaid provider in a 16-county service area through the Community Care Services program and provides as many as 15,000 Medicaid-funded meals per month, he said.

"Medicaid pays for those meals," he said. "We have not been reimbursed approximately $200,000. We have written off $251,000 in meals we've served we have not been able to get reimbursed for."

Augusta Mayor Bob Young, a member of the development center board who was not present when the contract was awarded, said it was only natural for Mr. Schoeffler to blame the RDC.

"Since their price is not competitive for meals and they've lost that contract, they're screaming and crying," he said. "The people that ought to be screaming and crying are the seniors for the way the staff and the board over there have failed at their stewardship to the seniors in this community."

Reach Sylvia Cooper at (706) 823-3228 or sylvia.cooper@augustachronicle.com.