A non-profit social service agency created “an immediate danger to the public health, safety and welfare of seniors of Pasco County,” the Area Agency on Aging of Pasco and Pinellas Inc. said Monday while picking a new organization to temporarily administer in-home services for elderly people living in the community.
The declaration from Ann Marie Winter, chief executive officer of the agency, followed the decision last week by Community Aging and Retirement Services, known commonly as CARES, to walk away from a proposed $4.3 million, six-year contract scheduled to begin July 1.
The community care program provides case management for low-income and disabled seniors and then arranges services they need, including meal delivery, house cleaning, transportation to medical appointments, adult day care and other resources. CARES has been the provider in Pasco since 1974, a year after the non-profit formed.
On Monday, the board of directors of the Area Agency on Aging, which oversees the state-funded program in Pasco and Pinellas counties, picked Gulf Coast Jewish Family and Community Services to pick up the Pasco contract for July and August. Meanwhile, the agency will seek new organizations to bid for the proposed contract and assume its administration Sept. 1. Gulf Coast already provides the elder care program in Pinellas.
“Concern we have for the seniors of Pasco County forces us to make this decision,” Winter said.
That decision came with the blessing of Florida Elder Affairs Secretary Michelle Banham, who attended the meeting virtually.
CARES has said it provided in-home care to 1,452 people in 2022 along with adult day care to 105 clients.
But the Area Agency on Aging raised concerns after CARES ran up a $1.2 million deficit and had to begin cutting services by 50% until the new state fiscal year began July 1. As part of the new contract proposal, the Area Agency planned a 60-day probation period for CARES as well as additional management and financial safeguards requiring two-week follow-up assessments on clients and a mandate of CARES to maintain a reserve of 30 days worth of operating expenses.
Instead, the CARES board scheduled an emergency meeting on May 10 and voted not to pursue the contract, for which it had been the only bidder.
The new safeguards “are not reasonable, attainable, and/or sustainable,” CARES CEO and President Jemith Rosa said in a May 12 letter to Winter.
Rosa addressed the agency board Monday and said her organization was in “an unfortunate situation” and that “we are looking for solutions to the problems.”
She said CARES would continue to provide services to Pasco County seniors, including home care and operating adult day care programs. Rosa also cited “misinformation out there” in Tampa Bay Times articles about CARES financial difficulties but did not specify the supposed inaccuracies.
The stories detailed how CARES sold its Dade City senior center building to Rick Soriano, chairman of its board of directors, and how Rosa recounted CARES board members and her husband writing personal checks to cover payroll because they worried the nonprofit would run out of money to pay employees. The stories also cited concerns from a resigning board member about “the agency’s lack of discipline in its budgeting and expenditures.”
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Soriano, chairman of the CARES board, also attended the Monday meeting. His only comment was to praise his organization’s case managers.
Besides the $1.2 million deficit, a timeline provided Monday to the agency’s board of directors detailed other significant concerns over how CARES administered the current six-year agreement. Among the issues:
- Last year, CARES continued to pay a senior citizen’s caregiver for five months after being notified of the client’s death.
- A 2022 client satisfaction survey found people complained of tardiness or no follow-up by case managers, and some said they didn’t even know who their case managers were.
- An Area Agency on Aging review of 168 files between October 2021 and April 2022 found continued errors showing late or missing semi-annual home visits, no or late two-week follow-ups, and a lack of appropriate follow-up in adult protective service cases involving people suspected of being abused, neglected, abandoned or exploited.
- CARES was fined nearly $4,600 in 2017 for failing to complete vendor billing in a timely manner.
- It also had to pay back $13,242 earlier this year after missing the state deadline to complete clients’ annual reassessments.
To help overcome CARES $1.2 million deficit, the Area Agency’s board of directors on Monday also formally approved bailing out CARES with $995,000 scrounged from elder care agencies around the state.