Controversy continued last week over the Pershing County Senior Center this time during public comment at the County Commission meeting. Unhappy senior citizens told county leaders they and others had been “kicked out” of the facility but it was not clear who kicked them out or why.
“This is about the senior center. I was supposed to bring my other friend with me today but she is ill, she has kidney disease, and she couldn’t come,” said one of two seniors at the meeting. “She was kicked out of the senior center for over a year. Same thing happened to me.”
One of the senior citizens accused Rackley of kicking out a senior citizen but he denied it and said “a director” had asked the person to leave the facility. Until recently, Rackley was the county liaison for the senior center but County Commissioner Carol Shank has replaced him.
Shank pointed out that at least one of the seniors making the complaint was again coming to the senior center so the situation “has been resolved” but the senior citizen did not agree.
“It’s not resolved. I know it’s illegal to kick people out of the senior center unless you report it to the state. Who’s going to be held responsible for that?” Jo Brunk told the board. “Just because they say they didn’t do it, I’ve got two people who say they did and I was there for one of them.”
The seniors involved in the incidents “felt extreme loneliness and they were isolated.”
“There have been other people who won’t come back. I’ve tried to encourage them and tell them, he’s not in charge anymore but they just won’t,” Brunk explained.
Shank promised to reach out to the seniors who were allegedly kicked out of the facility. “The past is past. Seniors are returning to the Senior Center,” she told a reporter in an email on Saturday. “When we have a new Director, you are welcome to write a positive article about the Senior Center. The commission will be interviewing soon.”
LOW WAGES, HIGH TURNOVER
Rackley and Shank did agree that high staff turnover at the facility is due to the low pay. Along with a new director, the senior center now needs another full-time cook, an on-call relief cook and a full-time administrative clerk/homebound meal delivery driver.
Shank said the senior center wages and salaries “are terrible” and recommended the administrative clerk position become a full-time job instead of part-time as of June 1.
“One of our cooks is leaving and that’s due to the salary and we’ve never gotten approval to hire a relief cook to fill in when necessary and actually pay someone,” she said. “The Administrative Clerk/Homebound Driver is leaving in another week or so and I’m requesting that position be changed to full time on June 1 instead of July 1. We haven’t had a senior center director for several months so the funds are there.”
Shank said an on-call relief cook is needed to be sure there is adequate kitchen staff.
“It’s like a substitute so that we always have two cooks in the kitchen. For instance, one of the cooks was out for vacation for a whole week and thankfully we have some people that just volunteer to go in and help,” she explained. “But, if we have a relief cook that we can call and actually pay and it is in the budget for a relief cook.”
Rackley said he has requested better pay for senior center staff including the cooks who must follow the state’s nutritional guidelines as they prepare meals for senior citizens each weekday.
“I have been pressing for an increase in salary for several years and it has always fallen on deaf ears,” Rackley told the board. “That is why you can’t keep a good cook on a permanent basis.”
Shank said Senior Center Advisory Board members asked to interview candidates for the director job but District Attorney Bryce Shields suggested the board participate in interviews with county leaders rather than screening candidates beforehand. The county commission agreed.
“If that’s the case, I will amend my motion so that the advisory board has representation on the interview and selection committee,” Shank told the county commission.
Shank said the number of weekday meals being delivered to homebound seniors and served to seniors in the dining hall at the Senior Center “are going up a little bit.”
“We’ll make sure we provide that information to the board at least once a month,” she said.