Senior services program leaving stateBy Brent Curtis
STAFF WRITER | January 12,2013A program that helps seniors in Rutland and Chittenden counties maintain their independence will close this spring.
Five years after opening offices in Colchester and Rutland, PACE Vermont announced Friday it will close its offices and leave the state by March 31.
The program, whose name stands for the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly, has provided medical and supportive care for seniors with chronic needs in other states for decades.
But the nonprofit program, which receives state and federal funds, didn’t begin providing services in Vermont until 2007 when offices opened in Rutland City and Colchester, according to Wayne Olson, senior vice president of Volunteers of America, the Minnesota-based company that oversees PACE Vermont.
During its operations in Vermont, PACE has served roughly 350 seniors with nursing care requirements, including a current caseload of 75 clients in Rutland and 60 in Colchester.
While the numbers served may seem significant, Olson said the company needed many more clients to achieve financial stability in Vermont.
“Throughout our history we’ve had challenges with enrollment increases,” he said. “There hasn’t been a point in our history when we were in balance. We always had more expenses and liability than reimbursements.”
Olson added, “Eventually, the expenses were too high. The decision was reached a week ago that we would have to close.”
That decision started a series of conversations with the organization’s clients and other senior care providers in Chittenden and Rutland counties to arrange for transitions to other programs.
In Chittenden County, PACE clients in need of case management are being referred to the Champlain Valley Agency on Aging while in Rutland those same clients are being instructed to call the Southwestern Council on Aging.
Rutland Area Visiting Nurse Association & Hospice is also preparing to help seniors who will be phased out of PACE during the next 2½ months.
“RAVNAH is already stepping in to help with patients,” said RAVNAH spokeswoman Laura Vien. “Anytime an organization or service that extends services to a vulnerable population closes, it’s a loss.”
Olson said the closing will also leave 85 nurses, dietitians, drivers and other support staff employed by PACE without jobs — although he said he hoped many of the company’s employees wouldn’t be out of work for long.
“We’re anticipating that some of our staff will be hired by the other agencies who will absorb our clients,” he said.
Olson said he had no doubt that other senior support services would be able to add those receiving help from PACE. In fact, he said that competition with those other services, which had been caring for Vermont’s senior population long before PACE arrived, was a major factor in his organization’s struggles.
“We believe there’s enough services here to provide a safety net, certainly,” Olson said. “The closing was a very difficult decision to reach but it wasn’t a sudden decision. We came to it cumulatively over time.”
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