Funding cuts have forced the Human Services Department to shrink the number of days per week senior centers stay open from five to just two at all of the centers but one that it operates on St. Croix, according to Human Services Assistant Commissioner Michal Rhymer-Brown. The St. Croix center will go down to two days a week next week, she said.
Rhymer-Brown said funding cuts due to the federal sequester were part of the problem, but the local government slashed $3 million from the department’s budget.
“It’s a double whammy,” she said.
The seniors at the centers are ambulatory and can still cook meals for themselves, Rhymer-Brown said. “We had to look at who was able,” she said.
Cutting days at the senior centers freed up money so Human Services can help those who can’t do for themselves. Rhymer-Brown said the department still needs to operate various programs like the money the territory matches for Medicaid, and it will still run its home delivered meals for seniors who can’t cook for themselves. Human Services will also fund lunches two days a week at the senior centers.
While all senior center participants will feel the impact, at least one at the Adrian center located at George Simmons Terrace on St. John is particularly upset.
Edna Freeman said she has no plans to attend activities at St. Ursula’s senior center if it turns out they need to move out of Adrian.
“No way. This is our home away from home,” Freeman said when asked if she and the 20 plus seniors who gather at the Adrian senior center would relocate to St. Ursula’s.
Rhymer-Brown said that in order to help the department decide what it will do about senior centers on St. John, the department is counting up the number of seniors who will use the senior centers. It doesn’t appear that either St. Ursula’s or Adrian is big enough to house all of them. She also said that once this problem is solved, Human Services likely will have to cap the number of participants in the program.
Human Services stopped funding the Episcopal Diocese’s contract operation of St. Ursula’s senior center Nov. 8. Until it runs out of money at the end of November, the diocese will continue to operate the senior center, Administrator Juanita Williams said. The diocese also prepares meals for the senior lunch programs and the home delivered meals. Williams said the funding remains in place for those programs.
Williams said St. Ursula’s serves anywhere from a dozen to 19 seniors depending on the day.
Rhymer-Brown said that it pays $1 a year rent to the V.I. Housing Authority for the Adrian center, and if it decided it would use the St. Ursula’s center, it would have to pay a share of upkeep.
Williams said St. Ursula’s staff will try to tap businesses for contributions so the center can operate the senior center.
Freeman is especially irked that most of the Adrian seniors retired after many years of government service.
“We deserve better,” she said.
The Adrian seniors moved from pillar to post before they finally settled in at Adrian when the center opened in 2008.Freeman said they met at what was then the Calabash Boom senior center before moving to John’s Folly Learning Institute, and then to the pavilion at the Oppenheimer section of Hawksnest Beach, and then to the Sports, Parks and Recreation building, at the rear of the Human Services building, and finally under a tree next to the Tourism Department office near the Cruz Bay post office.
Williams spoke about the importance of senior centers in keeping seniors active and alert.
“You retire and you’re just home watching TV,” Williams said.
Sen. Tregenza A. Roach said in a press release that when Human Services closed the Anna’s Retreat senior center on St. Thomas and moved participants to the Hospital Ground center, a number of seniors did not attend.
“Certainly their quality of life declined,” he said.